USA Truck funds driver training scholarships, works with Northwest Arkansas institutions

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 77 views 

Van Buren-based USA Truck has signed on to provide $55,000 for 15 scholarships to qualified applicants in the commercial driver’s license training program offered through the Northwest Technical Institute and the University of Arkansas Global Campus.

This is the first corporate donation to the collaborative driver recruitment initiative since it was announced in January. The UA Global Campus in Fayetteville, the Springdale-based NTI  and the Mid-America Truck Driving School are working together to boost recruitment efforts for the trucking industry which is experiencing an estimated shortage of 70,000 drivers this year.

“This program provides people with little or no truck driving experience the opportunity to start a new career in an industry that is growing,” said Heather Sprandel, a Global Campus affiliate. “The truck driving industry offers various career paths, excellent earning potential and outstanding benefits, so we are very appreciative of USA Truck’s commitment to educate the community about careers in trucking and to get new drivers behind the wheel.”

The scholarships will cover the $3,700 enrollment fee for the commercial driver’s license training program offered at NTI in cooperation with Mid-America Truck Driving School  and the UA Global Campus. The five-week program offers day or evening classes with six starting dates each year.

“We are excited about this partnership and the opportunities it will provide,” said Steve Brantley, director of driver recruiting for USA Truck. “Not all successful career paths take a traditional route. Our industry is wide-ranging and diverse, and the transportation sector offers limitless possibilities. USA Truck is always looking for talented, hard-working individuals who are passionate about building a rewarding career in a growing industry that is vital to keeping our country moving.”

The USA Truck recruitment program is now accepting applications for the scholarships. Recipients who complete the training program offered through this partnership initiative be given preference for job openings with USA Truck. There will be two information sessions about the scholarship program in the coming weeks:
• 10:30 to 11;30 on Tuesday, July 13 at the Northwest Technical Institute, Room 137A, 709 Old Missouri Rd., Springdale; and
• 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 3 at the Jones Center, 922 E. Emma Ave., Springdale.

The training program encompasses 200 hours of combined classroom and behind-the-wheel training, including the final exam. Scholarship pre-screening and eligibility requirements include:
• Being at least 21 years old;
• Having two or fewer moving violation in the past 3 years;
• No more than two collisions in the past 3 years;
• No DUI’s or any other violations involving drugs and alcohol in the past 7 years;
• Stable work history; and
•Complete an approved physical examination and drug screen as prescribed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

A truck driver has the potential to earn about $35,000 in the first year and up to $50,000 after three years, according to USA Truck. Top-end owner-operators can earn as much as $60,000 a year. That said, recruiting drivers to the industry remains one of the biggest challenge trucking companies face.

RECRUITMENT CHALLENGES
The program partnership is working hard to recruit more women to the industry as drivers. Roughly just 6% of the nation’s commercial truck drivers are women, yet they make up about 50% of the overall workforce.

Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport Services, the largest carrier in the region and one of the largest in the country, chronicled the seriousness of driver shortages and retention in a 2014 White Paper. It topped the list of concerns going forward.

“Budgets for recruiting have risen, and driver pay is increasing. Carriers have also reported increased recruiting expense, sign-on bonuses, and mileage pay as they struggle to keep drivers in trucks,” Hunt noted in the White Paper.

Specifically, according to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), 34% of trucking’s operational costs per mile is driver pay, which, with the recent drop in fuel prices, is putting driver pay as the largest operational cost. And as driver pay increases due to the shortage, it has a significant impact on fleets. Additionally, as volumes increase, the existing driver pool is only more strained, noted American Trucking Associations’ Chief Economist Bob Costello. He said driver pay rose 8% to 10% last year and he expect the same to happen in 2016. Driver turnover is also a huge concern in the trucking industry today. Costello said driver turnover reached 95% last year.

Doug Carter, owner of Mid-America Trucking, said the shortage has created a bidding war for drivers and it’s also adding to the higher turnover rate. Carter is an instructor for the local driver training program and said classes are running at about 55% capacity. Women comprise about 10% of enrollment in most classes. He said class sizes range from 8 to 12 and the partnership and continued support from the local trucking industry should bolster those numbers in the coming months.

COMPANY PARTNERSHIPS
“USA Trucking participation is an extremely big step in the right direction because the key goals of the partnership is to bring more women and veterans into the industry by raising awareness of opportunities and removing barriers. Awareness is being raised with the two public sessions and the scholarships are removing financial barriers. USA Truck has already provided one scholarship for a program in advance of this announcement. One recipient came through the class and is now team driving with her husband that has been with USA Trucking for 18 years,” Carter told Talk Business & Politics.

Tonititown-based P.A.M. Transportation will also contract with Mid-America and NTI to train drivers it recruits. Carter said Dan Kee, associate vice president of driver development, and Brandon Wooden, director of driver development, are working with him on this program. He said P.A.M. is covering the fees for the training recruits who need driver training instruction.

Carter said this and other programs are essential to helping women and veterans overcome barriers that perhaps keep them for pursuing a professional truck driving career. Carter believes that recruiting more women and veterans to the industry will have a positive impact on driver retention.

He said two women who recently came through the driver training are now driving with their husbands, which makes them less likely to quit the profession. Sandy Nash, a Benton County resident is now team driving with her husband for McKee Foods. Cheree Shun of Lowell, a displaced worker from APEX Tools went through the driver training earlier this year with her husband Ernest. Carter said this couple is now team driving for FedEx Ground and enjoying the ride. He said both couples are earning in excess of $155,000 for their team driving efforts.

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