Nationwide Driver Shortage Inspires California High School to Teach Truck Driving

By Ashok Ramprasad | October 20, 2021
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Patterson High School in California offers trucking lessons to students. (Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/truck-18-wheeler-plumbing-cargo-5292026/> CC0 1.0)

Trucks move roughly 72.5 percent of the nation’s freight by weight, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA). However, the past decade has seen the country grappling with a shortage of truck drivers. With the supply chain severely impacted by a shortage of truckers, a high school in California is looking to address the problem.

Patterson High School in California has become one of the first non-vocational high schools in America to introduce a unique truck driving program as an elective for students. The initiative is part of the school’s Career Technical Education Program that seeks to develop a student’s workplace skills through hands-on training. Dave Dein, a teacher at Patterson High School and former truck driver, is the instructor.  

Apart from classroom learning, the truck-driving program also comprises a “lab” section. In order to get first-hand experience in trucking, the teenagers undergo 180 hours of classroom training along with 30 hours of lab sessions held outside classrooms where they get to drive trucks. 

Students are educated on the fundamentals of the trucking industry and safety. For those students who are interested in pursuing trucking as a career, further training is required once they are 18 years old. As of now, the minimum age for truckers to transport goods across state lines is 21.

“A lot of [students] who enroll in the course have never considered trucking as a career… Trucking doesn’t have a great reputation and it comes with a lot of misconceptions about what exactly a truck driver is… If we don’t start promoting trucking to our youth, they only can make decisions on the information that they have,” Dein said to NPR

Some of the misconceptions include unbearable working hours, hazardous nature of the job, and low wages. As the average age of a truck driver in the U.S. is around 54 years, many are of the view that it is a career option for older people.

The thought of having a Commercial Driving License (CDL) prior to graduation is something that the students who enrolled in the program hadn’t even considered. For instance, high school senior Eduardo Dominguez-Sotelo initially thought trucking was not up his alley. 

But after obtaining a good score on a job assessment test, Dein contacted him and encouraged him to take up the course. “In the end, it actually ended up being a good fit for me,” Dominguez-Sotelo said.

A recent graduate of the Patterson High School CDL program, Isael Medina, told Fox News that he was inspired to pursue a career in trucking after attending Dien’s class. “What motivates me is how Dien told me there’s a shortage of truckers, and I really enjoy this career path… So it’s not mostly about the money, it’s mostly just about helping out my community,” Medina said.

According to Dein, the average age of people entering the industry is 38 years old. This means that many look at the job as a second or third career option. 

Lindsey Trent, co-founder of the Next Generation in Trucking Association revealed that 25 percent of the truck drivers are nearing the age of retirement. Instead of being a second or third choice, Trent wants youngsters to consider trucking as their first career choice.

A 2015 study by the ATA found that there was a need for 48,000 drivers. In 2021, the industry was short by 68,000 drivers. If the trend continues, Trent warned that the numbers could exceed 100,000 by 2028.