With a commercial truck driver shortage looming, a high school in Patterson, Calif., decided to take a proactive approach by creating a truck driving school program dedicated to bringing new drivers into the industry.
The area surrounding Patterson High School has become a mecca for distribution centers the past several years, bringing in companies such as Amazon, CVS, Grainger, Kohls and Restoration Hardware. Superintendent Dr. Philip Alfano saw an opportunity and created a “Supply Chain and Logistics Management Program” at the high school that trains students for entry-level positions at these facilities. Two years ago I approached Dr. Alfano with the idea of starting a truck driving school and the process began to create one of the first high school truck driving programs in the nation.
Although I have been an elementary school teacher for 17 years, I am definitely not new to trucking. I began my career in the trucking industry in 1988 as a way to financially support myself through college. After earning a degree in business administration from C.S.U. Stanislaus, I was hired by a large manufacturing company as a driver/manager. After having a successful career as a driver and logging over 700,000 accident- and ticket-free miles, I felt called into the area of education.
After eight years as an elementary school teacher, I was compelled to do more for individuals marginalized by society and so I founded a tuition-free, non-profit truck driving school ministry called Faith Logistics. During my summers off from teaching, I trained individuals recently released from prison and teach them how to drive a truck and provided job placement assistance. For ten years this was my passion until regulatory changes affecting diesel engines forced the dissolution of this organization.
After receiving the green light from Dr. Alfano, the first step was to enlist the expertise of Jeff Rowe, district career technical education director, who was able to use his vast experience to leverage funding for the program. The next step in creating the high school program was to bring in industry partners and create an advisory board to assist in the planning and guidance of the newly formed entity. Since early conception, the advisory board members—including Morning Star Trucking, Penske Logistics, Foster Farms and Northern Refrigerated—have played a critical and vital role in the success of the program.
It was decided to base the program on the highest industry level standards as set by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) as well as the FMCSA Entry Level Driver Training Standards that go into effect in 2020. Students receive 180 hours of instruction time with 80 hours devoted to classroom instruction and 100 hours for lab activities. Here the students obtain hands-on experience on a truck and two trailers donated by Faith Logistics to practice pre-trip inspections, air brake tests, and coupling/uncoupling. Students also use this time for practicing hours of service (logbooks) and trip planning.
In addition, students also receive 20 hours of behind-the-wheel training on two Advanced Training Systems truck simulators where they learn how to shift a 10-speed transmission that includes fuel management shifting techniques, maneuvering the truck through varied simulations and backing. The ATS lessons are self-paced and the simulator provides immediate feedback and remediation. This allows me to work with more than one student at a time. The mini-lessons are goal driven and focus on a specific learning objective, allowing students to practice and retain information much more effectively.
The truck driving program has also partnered with Worklete, a training program designed to reduce workplace injuries. Currently implemented with companies such as Nestlé, Penske Logistics and DBI Beverage, Worklete teaches the proper way to perform industry-specific job functions, such as opening and closing the hood, entering and exiting the cab, pulling the fifth wheel release handle and many more job functions. Worklete has created a custom program for Patterson High School that has students learn a new lesson each week and then allows them to practice that movement throughout the week to create muscle memory. At the end of the program, Worklete trainers visit Patterson High School to certify that students are qualified in all industry-specific movements.
Upon the completion of the Patterson High School truck driving program, students will be given an option as to how they want to proceed in obtaining their behind-the-wheel training. Students can choose to obtain free behind-the-wheel training with one of their industry partners, Morning Star Trucking, or enroll in the Patterson Joint Unified School District Adult Education Program where the district has contracted the behind-the wheel training with a local truck driving school. Since Morning Star Trucking trains with automatic transmission trucks students will have a restricted license, but they will be guaranteed seasonal employment transporting tomatoes during the summer earning up to $12,000 in three months. This is a great opportunity for students who may want to continue their education and earn money to help pay for college. The other industry partners have also pledged support to hire program graduates focusing on mentorship and guidance to ensure their long-term success in the industry.
The greatest accomplishment so far is that Patterson High School has proven that a viable, cost-effective training program is possible and can easily be replicated in other communities. The American Trucking Associations’ study in 2015 highlighted the driver shortage, now estimated to be 50,000 and possibly ballooning to 174,000 by the year 2026. It should be noted that there are over 26,000 public high schools across the United States and if programs like the one at Patterson High School were created at a county-wide level, then students from schools within each district could partake in the training. It would only take 10 students from each high school to make a significant and dramatic impact on the driver shortage. It is of great importance to not wait until someone is already in high school to start promoting truck driving as a career choice. We need to focus on outreach at the middle and elementary school levels.
The work being done by the organization Trucking Moves America Forward should be applauded for promoting a positive image of the trucking industry and thus hopefully attracting more individuals to pursue trucking as a career choice.
Lastly, I see the vision of this program is more than just providing skills and knowledge for students to earn their CDL. It is about providing students with a comprehensive look into an industry that is currently exploring new technologies, such as hydrogen and electric powertrains and autonomous trucks designed to make trucking safer and more efficient. The legacy of the Patterson High School truck driving program is directly related to the success and accomplishments of those who continue to be an integral and active participant in the future of the transportation industry.
Supporting this mission, we have set up the Faith Logistics College Scholarship Fund through the Patterson Recognizing Individuals Determined to Excel (P.R.I.D.E.) organization. This scholarship is available to Patterson High School students who graduate from the truck driving program and want to continue their education in a transportation-related field of study.