Northeast awarded grant to expand truck driver training opportunities | News

A training program at Northeast Community College that helps individuals receive a Class A commercial driver’s license (CDL) now has the opportunity train even more drivers who are looking for additional certification.

The Nebraska Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education program has awarded Northeast a $92,000 reVISION Action grant to enhance its existing Class A CDL training program, as well as expand into Class B training, according to a news release.

A Class A license allows individuals to operate vehicles like tractor-trailers, tankers, livestock carriers and flatbeds. A Class B license permits individuals to operate straight trucks, dump trucks, parcel delivery trucks, garbage trucks, cement mixers and others.

Michele Gill, interim vice president of educational services, said Northeast has a long track record with its existing truck-driving training program in contributing to both the success of students and in serving its 20-county service area.

She said the expansion of the program through the grant will address a need the college has been hearing from many businesses across the region that are looking to hire more drivers.

“Companies have been reaching out to Northeast indicating that there is a great demand for this type of training. The funds will allow for the purchase of a used truck and the hiring of part-time credentialed trainers,” Gill said. “The overall goal is to establish Northeast as the leader not only in Class A, but also Class B CDL training.”

A look at any online job board identifies the need for more transportation employees in Nebraska. This summer, one board cited 139 open trash hauler positions — 60 of which were in Northeast Nebraska.

Another board revealed 138 open concrete driver positions, with 53 located in Northeast Nebraska.

The reVISION Action grant has been designed to improve, modernize or expand career education programs to align with Nebraska’s economic priorities and workforce labor demands.

At Northeast, a portion of the grant will be used to offset expenses to hire another trainer to reintroduce the college’s 56-hour short-term Class A CDL training and expand its professional truck driving course offerings to high school students who attend classes at Northeast’s Pathways 2 Tomorrow (P2T) consortium.

In addition, the part-time trainer will mean Northeast can offer Class B CDL training in both Norfolk and across the region.

Shanelle Grudzinski, dean of applied technology, said a Class B CDL license gives drivers more opportunities for local and flexible truck driving jobs in areas such as construction, shipping and public transit.

“Many companies are reaching out to Northeast for assistance in getting unqualified  — or underqualified — candidates the necessary credentials to meet their employment needs,” Grudzinski said. “The grant will further enable the college to expand upon its Class A CDL training opportunities and Class B training.”

Grudzinski said an employment survey taken four years ago indicated there were nearly 4,000 truck drivers in Northeast Nebraska. That number is projected to rise to approximately 4,500 by 2026, an increase of 12.1%.

She said the projected increase is a result of two factors: combining the average annual occupational transfers (those who leave the field) and the average annual growth openings in a specific field.

Data from 2017 also indicated the average annual wage of a truck driver in Northeast Nebraska was $43,971 ($21.14 an hour) with the average experienced wage at $50,069.

“The statistics make a compelling case for truck driving as a high-demand and high-wage profession,” Grudzinski said.

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