York Tech commercial driving program to help vets fight unemployment

CDL instructor Calvin Wiley talks with students at the driver training facility in East Manchester Township, Wednesday, October 9, 2019. A new grant will allow York County School of Technology to provide free commercial driver training to veterans. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

York County School of Technology will now offer free commercial truck driver training to veterans in an effort to address both driver shortages and underemployment among the local veteran population.

"Nationwide, they’re in need of over 50,000 commercial truck drivers," said Kirk Schlotzhauer, director of the school's Adult and Continuing Education Center, about the trucking industry.

York County has a large number of trucking companies because of its access to major highway systems, he said.

The center will offer the training through its Veteran Driver Training Project, made possible by a $98,000 grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration — part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

The grant aims to help veterans get into the private sector while reducing accidents on the highway, Schlotzhauer said.

CDL student Zach Coombs of East Berlin uses his side mirrors while practicing backing into a loading dock, at the driver training facility in East Manchester Township, Wednesday, October 9, 2019. A new grant will allow York County School of Technology to provide free commercial driver training to veterans. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

The FMCSA selected 16 recipients nationwide — including colleges, vocational-technical schools, post-secondary institutions, training schools, associations and state and local governments — for $2 million in grants through  the Commercial Motor Vehicle Operator Safety Training program.

Three other recipients were selected in Pennsylvania: Northampton County Area Community College, Lehigh Carbon Community College and Sage Corporation, which partners with career and technical schools across the state.

That grant is just one in a package of $77.3 million in funding awarded to states and educational institutions to promote commercial motor vehicle safety.

“FMCSA is committed to working with all of its state and local partners to reduce crashes and improve safety on America’s roadways, said FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez, in a news release.

More:Northeastern's commercial driving class is first of kind in Pa.

York Tech, which has the longest-running commercial driver training facility in York County, since 1969, hopes to use the grant to address the driver shortage.

"For the longest time, truck driving has got a bad rap," Schlotzhauer said, citing long hours, a lot of time away from home and pay that wasn't as good as it is now.

Now, it's possible to earn up to six figures in the first couple of years, he said, and companies are giving incentives such as signing bonuses and flexibility so drivers can be home more often on nights and weekends.

It also reflects a shortage in many trades, due in part to a historical push for students to go to four-year colleges.

York Tech and its regional partners  have the resources to help local veterans and their dependents tackle the barrier of unemployment, and Schlotzhauer, also a veteran, said York Tech would be working closely with local veterans' organizations to get the word out.

"This sounds like a great opportunity for veterans," said Terry Gendron, director of York County Veterans Affairs, in an email, noting that he will need to hear more details.

It's can be a tough transition moving from the military to the private sector but trucking is common since many veterans used to drive commercial vehicles, said York Tech commercial driver's license instructor and veteran Calvin Wiley.

Wiley had been working with Pennsylvania CareerLink to place veterans in the industry for several years.

The school plans to work with veterans through targeted recruitment efforts, monitoring for success and job placement assistance through career services, job fairs, recruitment sessions and networking, according to a news release.

Schlotzhauer said for students, the school has had a near-100% placement last year and this year.

The Commercial Motor Vehicle Operator Safety Training grant will make the training available to current and former members of the U.S. armed forces, National Guard and reservists, as well as their children and spouses.

The grant will cover full tuition for the training program — which breaks down to $4,800 each for 24 veterans through the end of the grant Sept. 30, 2020. 

The next commercial truck driving training class starts at the end of October and runs for five weeks from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with new classes each month. The goal is to have two to three veterans per class.

For more information on classes, contact the adult education center  at 717-747-2130.