Trucker demand keeps CDL schools ‘busier than ever’

Truckers are in demand for jobs based in the Tri-Cities.

Teresa Maki, owner of T Enterprises, a private trucking school in Pasco, said enrollment at her CDL school has nearly doubled since 2020. (Courtesy T Enterprises)

Teresa Maki, who has been in business for more than 30 years as the owner of T Enterprises, a private trucking school in Pasco certified in commercial driver’s license (CDL) training by the state’s Department of Licensing, said that its enrollment had nearly doubled since 2020.

“The trucking industry just exploded. I’m busier than I’ve ever been,” Maki said.

The most recent listing from the state Department of Employment Security shows more than 200 job openings in transportation and material moving occupations.

“I usually have about 15 or 20 fliers in my recruiter break room and now I have about 50,” Maki said.

She sees more and more offers of full tuition reimbursement and enrollment bonuses for those who successfully complete their CDL training.

“The number of employers hiring new drivers has increased dramatically. Before, they could easily find someone with a bit more experience, but now they just can’t find enough drivers,” she said.

It’s a similar scenario to Prosser’s H&R Elite Trucking Academy, which is also certified by the DOL to train CDL students.

“We’ve seen a lot more recruiters sent out to meet with students and try to sweeten the pot by offering better benefits and pay to graduates,” said Juan Rojas Jr., an instructor’s assistant for H&R. “Some recruiters even hire straight away – hire people with no experience and offer to train them – which is good because we can’t train them as much in school and they need a bit of a job orientation. outside.”

The most recent figures from the ESD came out in the spring of 2020 and revealed that approximately 2,000 people worked as heavy-duty truck/semi-trailer drivers and light-duty truck drivers in the Tri-City area.

Statewide, demand has increased for the profession, and so have wages.

“Right off the top of my head, the pay went up 30%,” Maki said.

The current average salary for 2020 was around $50,000 per year, according to the state’s most recent figures, although job site Indeed said the average salary for truck drivers in the state was of $73,131 per year.

Maki said she used to see hourly wages starting around $18 and now they’re often $24 for drivers right out of school.

“Many are desperate to hire,” she said.

Rojas has seen starting salaries of up to $60,000, but with inflation, take home pay isn’t as big as it would have been a few years ago.

For those looking to get into the profession and make a quick buck, Rojas warned people to better understand the job.

“People think the trucking industry is Monday to Friday, eight hour work and that’s not the case at all. This is a productivity-based type of job where they pay you based on how long you work and how long you spend on the road. You won’t be able to go home every night. You will work 10 to 12 hours a day. It’s psychologically tiring, it’s hot, and it’s really very difficult.

Rojas said these challenges can often lead to a retention problem for companies, either because they don’t pay workers enough or because employees find the industry too difficult.

“A lot of people have their Class A or B CDL, but they just don’t use it,” he said.

The Biden administration is playing an active role in trying to alleviate the “high turnover and low job quality” in the trucking industry.

“Turkage turnover averages 90% for some carriers, and drivers spend about 40% of their workday waiting to load and unload goods – hours that are typically unpaid. Many truckers are not directly employed and operate as small, independent businesses, bearing the burden of rental, gas, insurance and maintenance costs themselves, causing many to leave the profession,” according to a statement from the White House.

The industry is also older and male-dominated, although there is a push to attract women.

Biden’s office said trucking jobs had been declining for years ahead of historic job growth in 2021, resulting in employment surpassing pre-pandemic levels, with growth in industry above 8% in Washington State, not far from the highest demand found in California with growth north of 10%.

Obtaining a CDL can cost between $3,200 and $5,000 in the Tri-Cities and Yakima Valley. This includes 160 hours of driver training, usually done full-time for about a month.

Maki’s school offers an evening course for evening students and can be completed in eight weeks.

She used to see about half a dozen new students start each Monday, but now that number has doubled, producing about 45 graduates each month. She had to hire additional instructors to keep up with demand and raise prices to cover fuel costs. She currently employs 15 instructors using 15 semis and recently racked up an $8,000 fuel bill in a single week of teaching students.

The quick return on investment in training will always attract people to the profession, especially as companies like Walmart advertise that drivers working directly for Walmart’s private fleet can expect to earn up to 110,000 $ in their first year of employment.

“You can get your CDL cost 100% reimbursed in most cases when you’re hired,” Maki said. “You make a lot of money and owe nothing, whereas you go to college for two or three years and come out with $30,000 to $50,000 in debt and you don’t make more than a truck driver.”

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