With more people shopping from home due to COVID-19 concerns, trucking firms are struggling to hire qualified drivers.

The shortage of truck drivers with a CDL (commercial driver’s license) has been a perennial problem, but it’s only getting worse because of the pandemic.

Ivy Tech Community College and Conexus Indiana are attempting to alleviate this problem with a new training program for commercial truck drivers that is covered by federal student loans and enhances a graduate’s employability in the trucking industry.

The CDL+ curriculum will be offered starting in January at five Ivy Tech campuses, including Fort Wayne. Eight others will offer the course later this year.

The program can be completed in one semester, and those who finish earn a 17-credit-hour certificate. The 160 hours of training includes 121 hours of operating observation, 30 hours of behind-the-wheel skill development and an eight-week internship, all of which prepares them to become a CDL holder.

The best part, however, is that this is the first CDL program eligible for federal student loans. Bryce Carpenter, vice president of industry engagement for Conexus Indiana, said the cost of a CDL license — $7,500 — is prohibitive to many prospective truck drivers. But with the CDL+ program the academic element qualifies for federal student loans.

Conexus Indiana developed the program in partnership with Ivy Tech, the Indiana Motor Truck Association and Venture Logistics. The Indiana Department of Workforce Development provided an initial grant.

Why the shortage?

Carpenter said both economic issues and perception turn people away from commercial truck driving. The $7,500 cost is a deterrent, but in addition to that, a rule prohibits anyone under 21 with a CDL from crossing state lines.

In addition it’s perceived as a hard life fueling an unhealthy sedentary lifestyle. Families don’t like having a loved one gone for days, and now with the coronavirus many equate travel with a heightened likelihood of catching the disease.

Long-haul truckers seem to have the hardest lifestyle, sleeping overnight in their cabs. But some truck-driving jobs cover local delivery routes, where the drivers are home every night. And even some of the over-the-road jobs have drivers home every weekend.

Commercial truck driving jobs “are better and safer and better paying than people realize,” Carpenter said. Beginning pay for entry-level CDL drivers starts at around $50,000, he said.

Indiana is a desirable place for logistics distribution centers, Carpenter said, because we can reach 60% of the U.S. population within a day. “We’re in such a good spot geographically.”

As evidence, Amazon is building a 629,186-square-foot warehouse on Airport Expressway.

Carpenter says nationwide the industry is short about 100,000 commercial truck drivers. Indiana is about 4,000 short at this time. But commercial trucking still needs to get over the perception hurdle. Trucking is safer, healthier and better paying than most people believe, he said.

For more information, go to www.ivytech.edu/workforce/cdl/index.html.

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