Sep 22, 2021 - Business
NWACC launches program to address a truck driver shortage
Illustration of a tractor trailer wearing a mortarboard.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A truck driver shortage is spurring the flagship community college of Northwest Arkansas to offer programs designed to get people behind big wheels.

What's happening: A nearly $289,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education will help launch commercial driver's license (CDL) programs at NorthWest Arkansas Community College.

  • The grant helped purchase a truck driving simulator that students can use to practice. It can simulate different terrains and is mobile. Eve Aldridge, director of training and community development at NWACC, tells Axios that instructors can even take the simulator to high schools. The hope is to get kids interested in trucking careers.

Why it matters: A lack of truck drivers in NWA, and nationally, is holding back economic activity.

  • The driver shortage is, in part, because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has pulled 60,000 drivers off the road since January 2020 for violations. Many of those violations, according to this Axios report, are alcohol- and drug-related. Aldridge says drivers are also aging out of the job.

Details: NWA businesses reached out to NWACC to determine what the school could do to fill the need, Aldridge says. NWACC will start the program this fall for people who already have their licenses but need to get recertified. 

  • The CDL program for new drivers is set to launch spring 2022. It takes four weeks and requires a combined 160 hours of classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction. Aldridge says NWACC expects to offer the course 10 times per year and accept up to 20 students per session.
  • NWACC plans to hire two part-time instructors and one full-time instructor.

Of note: Truck drivers make about $58,000 a year on average, according to Glassdoor. And no college education (or the burdensome student loans that often accompany it) is required.

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