(ROSENBERG, Texas) – It was a hot and muggy morning when five students of the Professional Driving Academy of Texas State Technical College’s Workforce Training and Continuing Education department were out practicing how to reverse a tractor-trailer.
Kelli Wilson, the instructor for the academy on TSTC’s Fort Bend County campus, said the students are looking for higher wages and a new job.
“Four of my students come from companies looking to train employees, and one is here out of pocket,” Wilson said. “Earning their CDL (commercial driver license) gives them more opportunities in the future.”
Texas is the leading state in commercial truck driver employment, totaling around 200,000 in 2020. However, a large percentage of these workers will be retiring in the next decade, leaving a large need for more drivers.
The Professional Driving Academy aims to fill this gap through four-week courses that teach students the basics and get them behind the wheel with hands-on experience. The first week of the program is dedicated to teaching theory and principles, while the final three are in-person training with a tractor-trailer.
“Once our students go through the 160 hours of the course, they get called back to do their testing,” said Robert Ramirez, the director of instruction for the academy. “We conduct the test in-house so students only have to spend very minimal time with the Department of Public Safety directly.”
In February 2022, the Texas Department of Public Safety began to require CDL applicants to go through a certified training program listed in the Training Provider Registry of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. When the change occurred, TSTC’s Workforce Training was able to move quickly to become certified, which simplifies the process for any student looking to get their CDL through TSTC.
The training is provided in areas of the state where there is a large need for more truck drivers.
“Expansion of the program occurred on a ‘as needed’ basis,” Ramirez said. “For example, when we talk about the program at Fort Bend County, Houston is a big market for truck drivers. The same is true of the other campuses the program is offered at.”
While the majority of the students who take the program are there solely for their CDLs, Ramirez stated that recently there has been an increase in the number of electrical lineworker students who are interested. Those who are, and have all the necessary paperwork ready, can start nearly right away.
“If tomorrow we have a class starting, then they start tomorrow,” Ramirez said. “That pushes the line for everybody else, meaning more students get to take the course.”
Additional training is available for students looking to get their double or triple trailer endorsements or hazardous materials endorsements. The end goal for Ramirez is to provide everything that students could need and want.
“We provide extra training for our students so they can be better prepared for the industry,” Ramirez said. “When a student comes in through the program, what they can expect is professional instruction.”
In Texas, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers earn a median annual salary of $46,820, according to onetonline.org. The website projected a 22% increase in the number of these jobs in the state from 2020 to 2030.
The Professional Driving Academy of TSTC’s Workforce Training and Continuing Education department offers training to prepare students to test for a Class A commercial driver license. The program is taught at the Abilene, Fort Bend County, Harlingen and Marshall campuses.
Registration for TSTC’s fall semester is underway. For more information, go to tstc.edu.