Shifting Gears: Valley sees increase in truck-driving school applicants

on .

GOSHEN — Backing up a semitrailer isn't a simple task, particularly for somebody just learning to drive a big rig.

That was apparent from the stressed look on 23-year-old Derrick Holt's face recently as he tried to back up into a parking space while his driving instructor watched.

Holt, of Exeter, is a student at Proteus Inc.'s truck-driving school in Visalia, where he is one of a growing number of people across the country trying to start careers as truck drivers.

Although no figures are available, Mike O'Connell, executive director and legal counsel for the Commercial Vehicle Training Association in Washington, D.C., said operators of just about all 180 trucking schools his organization represents have reported jumps in enrollments and people interested in driver training during the past 6 to 12 months.

The economy seems to be driving the trend. Many of those wanting to enter the trucking field have lost their jobs and hope trucking will offer immediate and possibly better career opportunities than their old occupations.

For his part, Holt is confident trucking will do considerably more for him financially than his current job as a fast-food worker.

"I want to buy a house in the future," he said as he steered 30,000 pounds of truck and trailer into the narrow parking space set up in a dirt lot behind the Proteus distribution center in Goshen, where the truck school is located.

Proteus operates a second truck-driving school in Delano and has plans to open another later this year in Fresno.

"It's a good, secure living," said Holt, whose father drives a truck. "It's definitely a step up."

Not an easy job

It's just not easy, particularly when you're just learning, he added.

"When you turn right, you're going left. When you're turning left, you're going right. It's pretty confusing after awhile," Holt said as he drove, with the truck jerking as it braked, rolled back, braked and rolled back repeatedly into the narrow parking space.

Outside the truck, Francisco Rivera his instructor and a 20-year truck- driving veteran used hand signals and verbal directions to help his student.

"You'll get it! Back up slowly," he called to Holt. "All the way to your left! You've got this one!"

And a few moments later, Holt was in the parking space and letting out a long breath of relief.

But as difficult as the training can be, he said getting his Class-A truck driving license will be worth it, as did other students in the class.

They include Vilmer B. Caniedo, 50, of Orosi, who has worked as a field hand for years. He got his truck-driving license years ago but never used it as farm jobs became available.

But he's heard the local grape harvest will be light this season, which could mean less work for him and his wife, who also works picking fruit. And with the prospect of his making less than his usual $7,000 to $8,000-a-year pay, ‘™¯Caniedo a native Filipino who speaks limited English ' said truck drivers he's spoken to on farms and a friend who drives a truck urged him to give trucking a try and take a refresher course to regain his Class-A license.

Phon Vongsa, 38, is hoping a Class-A license will get him back to work.

He was laid off a year-and-a-half ago from his job in San Jose operating a silk screen printing machine, and three months ago he moved with his wife and two children to Visalia, where he has relatives.

"It's hard to find a job," Vongsa said, adding that besides working again, he's also looking forward to trying a new career that will let him see the country.

More enrolling in classes

Officials operating truck-driving schools at Proteus, College of the Sequoias and the Advanced Career Institute ›which runs private trucking schools in Visalia, Porterville and Fresno ' report that more people are trying to join their programs, many after losing jobs.

At ACI, that's about 40 percent of the trainees, compared with about 15 to 20 percent a year ago, said Barry Bither, the business' president.

ACI also provides the trucks and instructors for COS' two-year-old truck- driving instruction program.

Instructors at Proteus estimated the ratio of students who have lost their jobs is about 80 to 90 percent. It's about the same at COS, said Larry Dutto, dean of academic services specializing in career technical (vocational) education.

"We kind of tapered off a little bit [in enrollment] in January and February, but right now the course is full," he said.

Rivera said he's got a three-month waiting list for driving classes at Proteus.

Classes for Proteus, COS and ACI all cost about $3,000, though the college can offer financial assistance and Proteus can waive the fees entirely, in some cases.

Classes are held five days a week, usually eight hours a day and can last four to six weeks at ACI, six weeks at Proteus and 16 weeks at COS, which requires the extra time so students can receive college credit toward degrees, Dutto said.

Reasons behind choice

So why are so many people flocking to truck-driving schools?

Just take a look at the newspaper want ads, said Ulysses Garcia, 32, of Hanford, who was laid off from his construction job after the poor economy slowed the industry, so he enrolled in Proteus' trucking program.

"The jobs you see there are [mostly] for nurses and truck drivers," he said.

This despite the recession triggering a nationwide decline in demand for trucking services as lower consumer spending has reduced the amount of goods transported.

"There has been a slowdown," O'Connell said. "And there's a slight slowdown in hiring truck drivers, but there is a lot of turnover among the 3 million long-haul truck drivers."

In addition, large numbers of goods still have to be moved, despite the slow economy, "and those jobs can never be outsourced," O'Connell said.

So even when the economy turns bad, trucking jobs are available and there usually is a jump in the number of people getting into the trucking field, he said.

"Everywhere I go and I stop to take a break, or at the DMV, there are more people stopping me to ask about this profession" after seeing the Proteus trucking school signs on the side of the truck and trailer, said Daniel Rangel, another truck-driving instructor.

And since May, he added, the number of calls to Proteus from people inquiring about or signing up for the truck school have gone up about 25 percent.

Most are people who have been laid off, Rangel said.

"People are unemployed. ... And people are interested in making what they used to make in jobs," he said, noting that seasoned drivers can make up to $80,000 a year while new drivers can make about $600 to $1,200 per week.

Still, some new truck drivers may have difficulty finding jobs right away, Rangel and Rivera said, noting that there are a lot of experienced truckers available because of the economic slowdown, so farmers and other agricultural businesses in this area tend to hire them first over newly licensed truck drivers.

But once the economy improves and increased spending results in more goods needing to be moved, Rangel said people who get their licenses now should be in good positions to get some of that work.


DOE Raises Diesel Price Forecast for 2010

on .

Lowers Outlook Slightly for Crude Oil, Gasoline

The Department of Energy held its diesel price forecast for 2009 steady at $2.46 a gallon, but bumped its projection for next year by a nickel from a previous forecast.

Trucking’s main fuel will average $2.84 in 2010, DOE said in its monthly short-term energy outlook released Tuesday — up slightly from the $2.79 it forecast last month.

In its latest weekly pump-price survey released Monday, DOE said the national average price of diesel was $2.625, the highest price since late November.

Diesel averaged $3.80 last year, peaking on July 14, 2008, at a record $4.764 a gallon.

Gasoline will average $2.34 this year, down slightly from the $2.36 predicted last month, DOE said. Monday’s weekly survey showed a 9-cent increase to $2.647.

This year’s prices are well below last year’s $3.26 average, a record. The single-week record high for gas was $4.114 a gallon, set on July 7, 2008.

DOE also lowered its forecast for crude oil, saying it will average $59.94 a barrel, down slightly from the $60.35 it projected last month. The 2010 forecast was unchanged at $72.42.

Oil averaged $99.57 per barrel last year and set a New York Mercantile Exchange closing-price record of $145.29 last July.

By Transport Topics


New Federal Rule Designed to Improve Braking Power

on .

From CCJ:

There were no surprises in the new federal rule designed to improve the braking power of a standard, fully loaded, tractor-trailer by almost one-third.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration worked with the industry on a shorter stopping distance, and the final rule, issued July 24, will not force truck operators to adopt disc brakes if they don’t want them. It does not require installation of electronic brake systems, nor does it attempt to regulate brake “fade” (loss of effectiveness) in prolonged applications.

Brake makers last week said they would be able to meet the new stopping standard with larger, “enhanced” drum brakes, based on familiar technology.

Some fleets, of course, freely choose disc brakes and EBS for their tractors.

By setting a maximum stopping distance of no more than 250 feet from 60 mph, starting with 2012 models, NHTSA cut the standard by more than 100 feet. Early tests did not instill confidence in the agency’s mind that brake drums could do the job. NHTSA favored air-powered disc brakes, and even considered a “hybrid” mix of discs and drums on the tractor.

In the 1970s, NHTSA was eyeing a stopping distance of 216 feet from 60 mph, which proved technically infeasible. But the effort eventually led, over a stormy and circuitous route, to the anti-lock brake mandate.

The draft of this latest rule was unveiled in 2005, and many fleets immediately said they did not want to be forced into discs. They argued disc brakes on the tractor and drum brakes on the trailers — the norm for trailers — would create compatibility and balance problems. They said they would face additional costs in stocking parts for two different brake systems and would need to train technicians in both.

Fleets also were concerned that new brake requirements would overlap the arrival of engine emission systems in 2007 and 2010.
NHTSA’s recognition that bigger drum brakes can do the job means adapting to the new rule “should be pretty smooth,” American Trucking Associations said. That’s the best no-surprise of all.

Also, NHTSA acknowledged that truck operators still have equipment changes coming their way that will add cost and weight to trucks. We can’t help but agree that the resulting accident reduction will justify the expense in the long run.

We see this new rule as another positive for an industry that keeps getting safer, as shown by the steep, 12% drop in truck-related highway fatalities last year.


"Jason's Law" Introduced in Senate

on .


*** Industry Bulletin ***

'Jason's Law' Introduced in Senate


New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has introduced companion legislation in the Senate to a bill in the House that would implement a pilot program to address shortages in safe parking for commercial motor vehicles on the National Highway System.

The House bill, H.R. 2156, was introduced last week by New York Rep. Paul Tonko. The bill is S.971 in the Senate. Both bills, titled "Jason's Law," are named after New York truck driver Jason Rivenburg, who was shot to death during a robbery attempt on March 5 while resting at an abandoned gas station in South Carolina.

This legislation allows the Secretary of Transportation, in cooperation with appropriate State, regional, and local governments, to allocate funds to improve rest areas that serve the National Highway System.

Referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, "Jason's Law" would provide grants for the following initiatives:

  • Constructing safety rest areas that include parking for commercial motor vehicles.
  • Constructing commercial motor vehicle parking facilities adjacent to commercial truck stops and travel plazas.
  • Opening existing facilities to commercial motor vehicle parking, including inspection and weigh stations and park-and-ride facilities.
  • Promoting the availability of publicly or privately provided commercial motor vehicle parking on the National Highway System using intelligent transportation systems and other means.
  • Constructing turnouts along the National Highway System for commercial motor vehicles.
  • Making capital improvements to public commercial motor vehicle parking facilities currently closed on a seasonal basis.
  • Improving the geometric design of interchanges on the National Highway System to improve access to commercial motor vehicle parking facilities.

The American Trucking Associations issued a statement in support of the bill.

"ATA supports this critical legislation and urges quick action in Congress," said Bill Graves, ATA President and CEO. "The parking shortage for commercial motor vehicles comprises the safety of drivers out on the road and requires a comprehensive solution involving all interested parties."

The creation of more long-term truck parking has been a longstanding issue within the trucking industry and was an ATA Safety Task Force Report recommendation released in 2008.


on .

The Transportation Security Administration said it will not delay the April 15 deadline for an estimated 1.2 million workers to obtain their Transportation Worker Identification Credentials, but the U.S. Coast Guard will allow entry at some ports through mid-May to workers who present proof they have passed a security screening but have not yet received their credential cards from TSA.

Lt. j.g. Stephanie Young, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, said TSA decided two weeks ago to allow entry to truckers and port workers without a TWIC because a recent system failure had caused a backlog in issuing the credentials.

To gain entry without a TWIC, a worker must present a photo identification card and proof that his or her TWIC has been printed and is ready for activation, according to an April 2 Coast Guard statement. The fact that a TWIC is ready for activation proves the individual has successfully completed a law-enforcement background check, Young said.

The alternative method of entry will be in effect only until May 13. After this date, only individuals with a valid TWIC will be eligible for unescorted access to facilities regulated by the Maritime Transportation Security Act, the Coast Guard said.

As of last week, TSA said that nearly 1.1 million port and dockworkers, truckers and others at ports across the nation had enrolled for the card, but only 890,000 cards had been issued.

On average, TWICs have been ready for activation three to four weeks after initial enrollment, primarily because of the time re-quired for the background checks, TSA said.

“We encourage all workers that, once we let them know their card is ready to be activated, to come in and do so,” said Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman.

Plagued by a number of technological and other glitches, TSA’s security system contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., has been playing catch-up in TWIC enrollment for the past year.

Port workers originally were required to have the TWIC by Sept. 25, 2008, but the deadline was extended to April 15 in May last year.

The TWIC was developed in response to legislative provisions of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001, which Congress passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The actual national compliance deadline is April 15, but Coast Guard officials at the last five ports to begin requiring the TWIC — Los Angeles/Long Beach, Guam, Houston/Galveston, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Port Arthur, Texas — actually will begin requiring the credential beginning April 14, Soule said.

Besides the estimated 1.2 million workers who will need the biometric security credential to gain unescorted access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime transportation system, all Coast Guard registered mariners will need the identification card.

Soule said TSA is still uncertain how many port workers will apply.

“It’s a transient and seasonal population,” Soule said, “so it’s hard to nail down exactly how many people will need a TWIC.”

The TWIC enrollment process has been the target of congressional criticism and was faulted for delays in a Government Accountability Office report last year (9-29-08, p. 3).

Soule said that TSA expects workers to continue enrolling employees after the mandatory compliance date.

To meet last-minute demand, the agency recently added a “surge of new resources,” opening new activation centers in Houston, Los Angeles/Long Beach, New Jersey and Baton Rouge, La.

Retraining surges in recession

on .


When Dan Bartochowski was laid off from his job at a tire retread shop in Griffith after 18 years, he had an inkling what he might do next.

"I have all kinds of contacts in the industry because I was always working with guys who drive trucks, who own trucks, so it's something I thought I could do," he said.

But it wasn't easy getting there. The 46-year-old single dad was out of work for more than half a year before securing a work force retraining grant for classes at DriveCo, a truck-driving school in Gary.

With the unemployment rate at 9.9 percent and 33,228 people out of work in Northwest Indiana, legions of others have been doing the same as Bartochowski this year -- learning new tricks for new trades in order to land jobs.

Recently, Bartochowski was practicing parallel parking a cab and 48-foot trailer under the watchful eye of DriveCo instructor John Spoonhour. He would be taking his CDL test within a few days.

"You're never to old to learn something new," Bartochowski said.

The Center of Workforce Innovations reports that in the past six months, 458 jobless workers have enrolled in government-sponsored retraining programs that it administers. The center oversees WorkOne employment offices in the region.

Many more workers, both unemployed and employed, are paying for retraining using their own funds, school financial aid and loans, said Bill Thon, economic development and work force director at Ivy Tech Community College.

Ivy Tech Community College's Northwest Indiana region campuses have seen enrollment increase 17 percent this spring semester as compared to the spring semester of 2008, according to the college's figures.

Some smaller training schools also are seeing enrollments surge.

Enrollment for the three-week Certified Nurses Aide (CNA) course at Med Ed Inc. has doubled in the past year, Med Ed owner Pat Christoff said. Enrollment in the two-month course to become a Qualified Medication Aide have tripled.

Whether an unemployed worker is thinking of paying for retraining themselves or looking for a government retraining grant, they will need help sorting it all out, Thon said.

"Anyone dislocated or unemployed, the first thing they have to do is go to the WorkOne office," Thon said.

There, they can take tests, meet with a counselor and begin to figure out how to get the training they need, Thon said.

The Center of Workforce Innovations staffs the WorkOnes with counselors and contracts with colleges and vocational schools, like DriveCo, to provide work force training.

Bartochowski said he was required to write research papers and interview employers about his chances of landing a job before his $4,000 training grant was approved.

"I was one of the lucky ones," Bartochowski said. "A lot of people can't get them."

Back to school

Enrollments at some Northwest Indiana institutions of higher learning have increased significantly during the recession and are holding steady at others.

Ivy Tech Community College
Spring 09 enrollment: 7,167
Spring 08 enrollment: 6,110

Indiana University Northwest
Spring 09: 4,656
Spring 08: 4,447

Valparaiso University
Spring 09 enrollment: 3,790
Spring 08 enrollment: 3,697

Purdue University Calumet
Spring 09 enrollment: 8,944
Spring 08 enrollment: 8,962

Calumet College of St. Joseph
Spring 09 enrollment: 1201
Spring 08 enrollment: 1200

Sources: Ivy Tech Community College; Indiana University Northwest;
Purdue University Calumet; Valparaiso University; Calumet College of St. Joseph