Current students at the SCCTC CDL Training Center include Dereck Baldwin of Laceyville, (left), Chris Cole of Meshoppen (center), and Lee Williams of Montrose (second from right). Instructors include Dale Fisher (second from left), Brian Eso (right), and (not pictured) Al Shaulis.
As the demand for certified truck drivers continues to grow, classes at the Susquehanna County Career & Technology Center’s CDL Training Center near Dimock are filling faster. The current count of successful graduates of the 150-hour course stands at about 116, having passed the 100 mark in June of this year. Opportunities for students have grown along with enrollment, thanks to the ongoing support of companies that need new drivers to fill their own ranks due to growth in the industry and positions left open by retirees.
“We started very small with two trucks,” said Tammi Mowry, financial aid director and adult continuing education office coordinator for the SCCTC. The addition of two more big rigs, trailers of different sizes, a dump truck, and a deluxe driver trainer simulator have helped students explore a greater variety of options available to them upon completion of the course. “We’ve received an enormous amount of support from the industry,” Mowry related. “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have the additional equipment needed to support the program’s growth.”
Material contributions, corporate donations and even funding through the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) are fueling the tremendous success of this program. Business owners and managers participate as Advisory Board members to keep school administrators abreast of changes in the industry. They also have opportunities to meet students prior to graduation at recruitment events.
“As a feeder program, SCCTC has produced more well-rounded students than any other CDL training school in the area,” said Matt Austin, president and CEO of Eastern Freight Systems and several other businesses that routinely employ truck drivers. “Our partnership with SCCTC helps us with regular classroom participation and access to qualified candidates.”
Austin’s companies, including Holcombe Energy, have hired more than 40 drivers from the school so far. Fresh graduates are mentored for up to six months as they learn to apply their education to job-specific tasks. “We have found the students to be polite, well-prepared and eager to begin their new careers,” Austin stated. “We are routinely impressed with the students regulatory knowledge, which makes our continued education easier to grasp.”
Students learn that there is much more to operating a big rig, dump truck, or water hauler than just moving it from point A to point B. According to Bob Bennie, trucking foreman for GasSearch Drilling Services (GDS), a wholly owned subsidiary of Coterra Energy, proper loading and unloading procedures, as well as proper radio communication skills via a CB and two-way radio are equally important facets of operation that must become second nature before a new driver can strike out on their own. GDS recently hired its 10th driver from the program and, with 30 more open positions, Bennie is eager to continue filling the ranks from SCCTC.
“The students are very familiar with road etiquette and have a solid understanding of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations,” Patrick Musheno, director of safety at Meshoppen Transport and subsidiary Susquehanna Gas Field Services (SGFS), related. “They know how important getting good rest is and how a healthy diet can benefit them.” Seasoned SGFS drivers work with trainees to cover every driving scenario possible, including bad weather, poor roads, and the unpredictability of other vehicles on the road.
According to Musheno, the need for drivers is increasing due to a number of factors. “The current driving force is aging, and new drivers are not lining up quickly enough to fill that gap,” he remarked. “We must do what we can to interest others in a driving profession.”
SCCTC administrators are finding new ways to bring people, including veterans and high school students, into the program, and the school has also added a third instructor. Students give the CDL Center high marks too, crediting the instructors for spending ample time preparing them for testing and building their confidence.
“They basically taught me how to drive,” said Layne Koziol of Susquehanna, who graduated from this past summer’s session. “They’re all great people there.” Koziol was immediately hired by Nelsen’s Tree Service in Binghamton, NY, where he is working his way up through the ranks to drive a Freightliner.
One initiative that has gathered steam over the past year is the opportunity for 18-year old high school students to use Coterra’s EITC funding to enter the CDL program and obtain a CDL license at no cost.
“This program is tremendously successful, and it is our fastest growing cohort at the school,” said Mowry, who also emphasized that this scholarship is “available to any Pennsylvania high school student, regardless of being enrolled in a technical program.”
Whether you are a high school student or an adult learner, now is the time to inquire about upcoming sessions and financial aid. Class B permits can be used for driving dump trucks, water tankers and cement mixers, which can provide a steady income while the driver pursues the Class A license, which allows them to drive combination vehicles like tractor trailers.
“A lot of students are interested but don’t know how to pay for it,” Mowry related. “There are so many funding opportunities out there for tuition assistance.” Tuition assistance for adults can come from the Workforce Initiative and Opportunity Fund, Veterans Education and Training Services, and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Some companies cover all or part of the tuition for employees to complete the course, as their certification increases their flexibility and value on the job.
“In short, the SCCTC CDL program is critical to our success and has become a vital source of extremely qualified drivers,” Bennie stated.
“If not for schools like SCCTC, it would be much more difficult for trucking companies to fill their empty seats,” Musheno agreed.
Classroom seats are already filled for the final session of 2022, which starts in November. The next session begins on Jan. 9, 2023, and that class is also filling quickly. To learn more, interested readers can log on to www.scctc-school.org or call 570-278-9229.