SKYCTC's CDL program meeting need for drivers | SKYCTC

SKYCTC's CDL program meeting need for drivers

A Group of people standing in fron to truck on CDL Driving Range cutting a ceremonial ribbon

By DON SERGENT dsergent@bgdailynews.com

FRANKLIN – John Conyer, a 50-year-old from Scottsville, must feel a bit like a professional basketball star fielding free-agent offers from nearly every NBA team.

"People email or call me every day asking if I'm still looking for a job," Conyer said.

He'll never be mistaken for NBA stars Steph Curry or Anthony Davis, but in his own field, Conyer has a skill that is highly sought after and fills an urgent need in the local and national economies.

A former factory worker in Scottsville, Conyer shifted gears in January and took advantage of the new commercial driver's license program on the Franklin campus of Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College.

Conyer was on hand Thursday at the Franklin campus for the unveiling of a new on-campus CDL skills range and SKYCTC President Phillip Neal's announcement that the program is expanding into Hart and Barren counties.

After completing the monthlong program and earning his Class A CDL, Conyer stepped into a job as a night-shift driver for Bowling Green's TAZ Trucking.

He hasn't looked in the rear-view mirror since making that career-altering decision to leave the factory for the open road.

"I'm not an inside person," Conyer said. "I love it (truck driving). I had thought about it before. When the opportunity became available, I took advantage of it. I should've done it a long time ago."

Conyer is among a growing number of local residents who have taken advantage of the CDL training program SKYCTC created last year in answer to an increasing shortage of gear jammers.

Since the program started in June 2018, 88 students have completed the four-week program and all of them have earned CDL licensure. The SKYCTC Office of Workforce Solutions said 71 of the 80 students who completed the CDL program before July are now working in trucking. The other nine are not in trucking, either by choice or because of circumstances that prevent them from entering a hot job market.

"Our students are walking into stable, high-paying jobs," said Oakley Vaughn, SKYCTC's CDL instructor. "They're starting at $50,000 (per year) or more. I get calls every day about job opportunities."

Small wonder. A driver shortage report done last year by the American Trucking Association said more than 60,000 truck drivers were needed nationally at the end of 2018. Locally, the open jobs reports done by the JobsEQ labor market data company routinely show truck driver as one of the high-demand jobs.

"Truck driver is always among the top three jobs in the open jobs report," said Robert Boone, president and chief executive officer of the Bowling Green-based South Central Workforce Development Board. "There's growth in that industry because just about every product touches a truck at some point."

Boone said the workforce board has used federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funding to help participants in the CDL program with tuition and other expenses.

It's a good investment, he said, because of the driver shortage and the high salaries drivers can demand.

"There aren't many programs you can attend for four weeks and start getting that kind of paycheck," Boone said.

Neal and others at SKYCTC recognized that trend a few years back and took steps to create the new program.

"Our mission is to improve the quality of life of local residents," Neal said. "Over the last few years, CDL jobs have been at the top of the list of high-demand jobs. We knew we needed to step up and fulfill our mission. We needed to train drivers and do it quickly."

Kim Myers, SKYCTC's director of workforce solutions, said she reached out to the community for help in putting the program together and got a good response. Trucks were donated by Bluegrass Dedicated, Tennessee-Kentucky Trucking, Key Oil and M&M Cartage.

Before the on-campus skills range was built, the CDL students used a course at Franklin's Nacarato Truck Center. Myers said the next steps in the evolving program are getting a CDL simulator and expanding the program to Hart, Barren and other counties served by the college.

"We've barely scratched the surface," said Vaughn, the instructor who said the program has served students from ages 18 to 62.

Vaughn, who spent 28 years with Averitt Express before taking the job at SKYCTC, said the program attracts students from "every kind of background."

"Some are looking to travel and see the country, and some are just wanting to better themselves," he said.

Current students Mark and Athena Priquette are good examples of students looking to improve their situations.

Formerly staff members at Bowling Green's Potter Children's Home, the Priquettes are gaining confidence as truck drivers and looking forward to hitting the road.

"I started the program Aug. 4, and I'm already fairly comfortable driving," said Mark Priquette, 59. "We've had multiple job offers because we're a husband-and-wife team. The opportunities are out there."

​– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.