NEW CUMBERLAND - There's more to being a truck driver than loving the open road.
These days, truck drivers are highly-trained professionals who require special certifications and clearances, depending on what they're hauling and where they're hauling it to. The oil and gas industry prefers drivers with a hazardous materials endorsement, for example.
Hancock County Schools Superintendent Suzan Smith and Martin Hudek, director of secondary, adult and career education, have been watching the growth of that industry and saw an opportunity.
Tim Egyud (left) and John Barber, instructors for the new commercial driver’s license program at the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center, stand outside the tractor-trailer they use for training purposes. (Photo by Stephen Huba)
That opportunity is now a reality in the form of the commercial driver's license (CDL) program at the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center. Through the program, students age 21 and older can receive a CDL and be well on their way to a career in truck driving, Hudek said.
"If you're willing to be trained, if you can pass the tests and if you're willing to work, you can get a job," Hudek said. The tests include a physical, a background check and a drug screening.
The program at the career center has been about a year in the making, Hudek said. A $262,000 Local Education Agency grant from the West Virginia Department of Education is covering the cost of instructor salaries, curriculum and equipment. The school has two tractors, a flat-bed trailer and a 53-foot box trailer for training purposes.
Hudek said Hancock County Schools decided to start the CDL program to meet the increasing demand for well-trained, well-educated truck drivers, especially in the oil and gas industry.
"The job opportunities are good. The salaries are good," he said.
Teaching the course are instructors Tim Egyud, who has 23 years' experience, and John Barber, who has eight years' experience.
"When you get a CDL, the doors are wide open," Barber said. "You can go anywhere you want."
The Hancock County program started in October and is getting ready to enroll its second student. Seven to eight students are on a waiting list until they are approved for financial aid, Hudek said.
Students must take 12 weeks of classes before they can test for the CDL. Acceptance into the program is contingent on getting a permit that authorizes the student to drive with a licensed driver, Hudek said.
The first six weeks of the program are spent on maneuverability skills. The second six weeks are spent on the road, on real-life driving scenarios. Once the coursework is completed, the student is ready to test for the CDL, Egyud said. The Hancock County program qualifies students to receive their CDL in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Further testing is needed if the student wants to be endorsed to drive a hazardous materials trailer, a double/triple trailer or a tanker truck, Egyud said.
In addition to the oil and gas industry, there is a demand for truck drivers from the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Wintersville, Ohio, which contracts with Schneider National, Egyud said.
"They're looking for 20 guys," he said.
For more information about the CDL program, call the career center at 304-564-3337.