BRCC says trucking apprenticeship program could boost industry

Published: Jan. 23, 2022 at 7:35 PM EST
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WEYERS CAVE, Va. (WHSV) - A federal initiative set to launch this year will allow 18-year-olds to drive tractor trailers across state lines, the goal is to help address the nationwide trucking shortage.

“We’re 80,000 or more drivers short nationally, locally I don’t know a company that wouldn’t hire a driver right now,” said Jim Butler, transportation and logistics program coordinator for Blue Ridge Community College.

18 to 20-year-olds can currently drive a tractor trailer within state lines, but the apprenticeship program included in the Infrastructure bill passed in November will allow them to travel across state lines.

Jim Butler oversees the commercial driving school at Blue Ridge Community College, where most students are in there 30s and 40s looking to launch a new career.

He says that the new initiative could bring a new age group of students to the commercial driving school and provide a great opportunity for trucking companies to expand their workforce.

“By the time a lot of young adults reach the age where they think they can’t get a license because they’re not 21 yet, they’ve often times already got another career and so transportation companies miss out on the opportunity to hire 18-year-olds,” said Butler.

“It’s a benefit because it allows companies to actively go after 18-year-olds if they want to build that type of program, they can go after high school graduates and GED graduates and get them a license to drive, so it’s a good idea, it will raise awareness to the need for drivers in this area.”

Younger drivers will have to complete 120 and 280-hour probationary periods with an experienced driver in the truck before they are allowed to cross state lines on their own.

Because of the safety concerns associated with young drivers the program will also require additional safety technology in the trucks of 18 to 20-year-olds.

“Forward facing cameras, emergency automatic braking, the speeds will be regulated to 65 miles per hour, so it might not be for every company out there because they won’t have the manpower existing to put in another truck and train another person,” said Butler.

Blue Ridge Community College’s commercial driving school currently has a wait list. The school can teach up to 15 students at a time over a five week program.

Butler says the school has seen an increase in interest as the demand for truck drivers has grown.

“The industry is attractive now. Incomes are increasing, we’ve got drivers coming out of here making 50-60 thousand dollars. It’s not an easy job, but it’s a good job,” he said.

There is a great need for drivers in the Shenandoah Valley, which Butler says is a trucking hub due to the multiple major interstates that run through it.

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