Hauling Away A Better Job An article from The Courier-Journal
Instructor Bob Wooldridge, left, a state-certified inspector, worked with Shawn Ford in the cab of one of the trucks at Truck America.
Trucking student Shawn Ford climbed into the cab of one of the trucks at Truck America Training School. Almost 2,000 students have graduated from the training school since it opened in January 2001. It attracts students from Kentucky and nearby states.
Brooks school trains drivers to handle big rigs
By MISSY BAXTER Special to The Courier-Journal
At age 26, Gary Sanders is hoping to make a career change that will improve his family's finances. That's why he's spending several weeks in Bullitt County - far from his home in Tracy, Tenn.
As a student at Truck America Training School in Brooks, Sanders wants to earn his commercial driver's license and get a job driving a big rig.
"I was working for a landscaping business, but I need something that pays better and has benefits," Sanders said last week as he took a break from classes. "My stepfather drove a truck for more than 20 years, and I have a lot of friends who drive them. I know it's a lot of hard work, but my wife and I are hoping this will work out well. I really do need a job with good benefits."
Almost 2,000 students like Sanders have graduated from Truck America Training School since it opened in January 2001.
Owners Jim and Debby Carter said they opened the Ferguson Lane school because of an increasing demand for drivers. The 7,200-square-foot school and its adjoining driving area are easily seen from Interstate 65, just south of the Brooks exit.
"There aren't many driving schools around here, yet there is a big demand for qualified drivers," said Jim Carter, who worked in the trucking industry for 14 years as a driver and as owner-operator of a small trucking fleet.
"For many people, this is the perfect career because they can make good money and still have some independence," he said. "It's not like your typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office job, but a lot of people don't want that type of lifestyle. Trucking offers them an alternative that will still allow them to make a good living."
The average salary for beginning truck drivers is $35,000 to $40,000, said Dennis Sear, the school's admissions director. Some companies offer as much as $50,000 to experienced drivers, he said.
Instructor Rance Moore talked with students on how to turn through an intersection. Students undergo a 160-hour, three-week course.
Students hone their skills at the truck school's adjoining driving area. In their third week, students - accompanied by a trainer - drive along Interstate 65 and adjoining roads.
Sanders, who started the course last week, still has about two weeks of training and testing to go. Last week, he attended classes for 10 hours a day. This week, he will hone his skills on Truck America's huge gravel driving area. By next week, he will drive - accompanied by a trainer - along Interstate 65 and adjoining roads.
With only a handful of other trucking schools in the region, Truck America is attracting students from throughout Kentucky and nearby states like Tennessee and Indiana. The school has a staff of about 14 trainers and about 10 other employees.
"We get people of all ages, men and women from 21 to 77, who are either looking for a new job due to unemployment or are changing careers because they want a higher salary," said Debby Carter, who worked in PNC Bank's legal department as an office manager before joining her husband to operate the school.
"Before we even talk to the students about admission, we qualify them first to make sure they will be employable in the trucking industry," Debby Carter said. "We do a drug test . . . and a background check to find out if they have any DUIs, felonies or moving violations that might prevent them from getting a job as a driver. Once they clear all those hurdles, the fun begins."
Truck America students undergo a 160-hour, three-week course. Along with earning their commercial driver's license, students can also get a certificate allowing them to haul hazardous materials. Although people don't have to attend school to get a commercial license, industry experts say most trucking companies won't hire drivers unless they have completed a certified course through a training facility.
"Companies are worried about the liability and higher insurance premiums that can result from using drivers that are not well-trained," Debby Carter said.
"We provide all the training to help them pass the test and to enable them to become safe drivers."
The driving and written tests for commercial and hazardous-materials licenses are administered on site by Bob Wooldridge, a state-certified inspector who also teaches at Truck America.
Truck America's tuition is $6,500.
"We deal with more than 25 large trucking companies who offer great benefits, and most of them will reimburse the student's tuition," said Terry Swaney, the school's placement director. "Our rate of placement is very good because there is such a demand for good drivers. About 95 percent of the students who come through here have at least one job offer before they leave. Some of them have several offers."
Truck America graduate John Cook, a retired Army staff sergeant from Oak Grove, Ky., said he received "six pretty good job offers" after completing the three-week course. "Even though I already had military experience with tractor-trailers and other large vehicles, the trucking companies still wanted more training, which is why I went to Truck America," Cook said.
Truck America is certified by the Kentucky State Board for Proprietary Educators and belongs to several professional organizations, including the Commercial Vehicle Training Association.
"We work a lot with state agencies like Career Resources in Shepherdsville … they send us a lot of students," Debby Carter said.
"Sometimes students can qualify for tuition funding through state programs."
In addition to training drivers for 18-wheelers and other commercial vehicles, the school also recently expanded its curriculum to cover forklift operators.
"We decided to add a material-handling division because of the large number of warehouse jobs that are becoming available, especially in the Bullitt County area," Debby Carter said.
"You have to be certified to drive a forklift, and most of them start out making at least $8 to $12 an hour. If you've just come from flipping burgers for minimum wage, that is a nice jump in pay."
Graduates are "usually so proud when they get a job that they drop back by to show us their new truck," she said.
"We take a picture of them with their truck and put it on our Wall of Fame inside the school."
Many drivers who drop by also ask about the Carters' pet - a 120-pound Old English sheepdog, Duffy, who used to hang around the school until old age set in, forcing him to spend more tie at the Carters' northern Bullitt County home.
"Duffy is our mascot around here, and he's the reason we came up with the school's slogan - Learn to Run With the Big Dogs," Debby Carter said.
"When you can earn a good living by driving one of those big trucks, you are running with the big dogs."