Walla Walla Community College truck driving school program director Steve Harvey (red vest) walks with several of his students between two of the tractor-trailer combinations the school owns to teach students the skills necessary for commercial driver licenses.
Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.
WALLA WALLA — Steve Harvey has a favorite phrase when it comes to describing demand for commercial truck driving: “If you got it, a truck brought it.”
Harvey uses the phrase to show to what degree people rely on trucks for day-to-day life. From household goods to groceries, items make their way across the country and into shops and businesses almost exclusively on trucks.
With that demand comes the need for qualified commercial truck drivers. A highly regulated industry, commercial truck driving is poised to see demand spike in the coming years as the economy improves and demand for goods goes up, industry experts say. It is also looking at having a largely older work force retire soon, with not enough trained young drivers prepared to get behind the wheel.
The American Trucking Association reported in November 2012 a need of close to 25,000 drivers. That demand is projected to spike to nearly 240,000 drivers by 2022.
Stricter oversight at the federal and state level has helped make road safety and driver well-being a priority. But the regulations are also keeping potential drivers from earning their CDLs, or if they are in the field, from staying in.
Harvey trains students locally through the Commercial Truck Driving program at Walla Walla Community College. An industry expert with years of experience on the road and in the classroom, Harvey offers first-hand knowledge of riding rigs, and the most up-to-date lessons on federal and state regulations.
Unlike more traditional certificate programs, students who want to test for a CDL can get the training in one quarter. A more complete leadership and cooperative course is offered over two quarters. Once students test for their CDL and pass, they are ready to work.
“It’s a living-wage job with a short amount of training,” Harvey said. “You can’t get that with a lot of professions.”
But while a quarter of training would seem like a short time, it is among the longer programs available that teach students to seek their CDL. Harvey emphasizes driver, road and load-carrying safety, and the latest rules and regulations of a field with tremendous oversight.
“I came into the program thinking it’s not that hard to drive a truck,” said Brandon Kelly, 31, a student in the program who brought years of experience on friend’s and family’s equipment, from wheat trucks to 10- and 18-wheelers.
“I come in here and we had four weeks of an oral course before we could even touch a truck,” Kelly said. “There’s just so much detail. Lots of rules and regulation.”
In a quarter, students get 160 required hours to take the commercial truck driving exam. Students can also test at the college for endorsements in bus driving, fuel tankers and hazardous material transport.
“We work them for 10 weeks and then test them on the 11th week,” Harvey said.
Harvey currently has about 24 students, split between his morning class and an evening class he opened several years ago to accommodate working students.
“I took the classes and built them around other people’s schedules,” he said. “Anybody that wants a CDL can come get one now. We can fit the working people in and that’s what vocational education is all about.”
Kelly, who will test soon for his CDL, is aware of the demand for drivers, having grown up in the farming community — particularly now that regulations have gotten stricter.
“Every year it seems like they’re scrambling for drivers,” Kelly said.