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With Truckers in Demand, Training Incentive Program Expands in Virginia | Business

BY JOHN REID BLACKWELL Richmond Times-Dispatch

New program trains truckers at Virginia community colleges

With the trucking industry still facing a labor shortage, a new push is underway to recruit and train more truckers in Virginia.

The Virginia Trucking Association, an industry trade group, has launched a driver recruitment pilot program in partnership with Virginia Ready, a nonprofit that provides financial incentives to Virginia residents to take training in high demand jobs.

One of the goals of the program is to train and hire 100 truck drivers in 100 days and to continue recruiting potential drivers to attend commercial driver training schools at Virginia community colleges.

Under the Virginia Ready program, people can get a $1,000 cash incentive payment if they enroll in and complete a truck driver training program at a Virginia community college and then pass the test to get a commercial driver’s license.

“It’s a solution to a problem facing the entire industry,” said J. Ward Best, vice president of Atlantic Bulk Carrier, a Charles City County trucking company and one of eight trucking companies participating in the pilot program.

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Best, who is also president of the Virginia Trucking Association, said it was the toughest hiring environment he’s seen in 26 years at the company.

The American Trucking Association estimates the industry is facing a shortage of about 80,000 drivers nationwide. “That number is only going up,” Best said.

“A lot of things have happened during the pandemic,” Best said. “Truck driving schools had to close. We’re an older industry, just demographically, and a lot of people have said, “It’s a good time for me to retire. »

At the same time, demand for freight transport rebounded rapidly after the first business closures caused by the pandemic.

“So as people were leaving the industry, we didn’t have this pipeline of people coming into the industry,” Best said Wednesday during a meeting with Virginia Ready program executives.

The Virginia Trucking Association did not disclose how much money it is investing in the incentive program, although Best described it as “a strategic investment of time and money” for trucking companies, which “compares very favorably with ongoing expenses related to their recruiting efforts.”

The median salary for tractor-trailer drivers in the Richmond area is over $54,000, but industry professionals say drivers can earn far more than that — even six-figure annual sums — depending on their experience and the routes they travel.

Driving trucks requires a Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL, which is issued by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. It takes approximately 160 hours of training to obtain a CDL, including 40 hours in the classroom and 120 hours of hands-on training.

The Virginia Ready initiative was launched in 2020 to encourage Virginia residents who had lost their jobs during the pandemic to return to school at community colleges to learn business skills.

A coalition of 25 businesses across the state provides financial support for the nonprofit.

“The mission is to quickly reskill Virginians for in-demand jobs,” said Taylor Beck, head of partnerships for Virginia Ready.

Program participants receive payments of $1,000 after completing courses and passing diploma exams through the Virginia Community College System’s Fast Forward program. The program offers short-term training courses – typically six to 12 weeks – in areas such as medical and nursing assisting, phlebotomy, computer systems support, plumbing, pipefitting, welding, driving trucks and the installation and repair of power lines, among others.

“Virginia Ready was originally founded to serve those who were unemployed due to the pandemic,” Beck said. “But in June 2021, we decided to help everyone, unemployed and underemployed. So we expanded our eligibility.”

Since the Virginia Ready initiative was launched, about 3,400 people have attended community college classes through the program, Beck said. About 850 have enrolled in CDL programs, and about a third of them have so far completed these courses.

“CDL has always been part of the Virginia Ready program, but this is the first time we’ve had a partner hire CDL drivers,” Beck said. “Now we have the VTA supporting us and facilitating these relationships with employers.”

The goal now is to enroll more people in CDL programs at the 21 community colleges across the state that offer them.

In the Richmond area, CDL courses are offered by Brightpoint Community College – formerly John Tyler Community College – and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.

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