New $3.4 million grant aims to train more than 300 truck drivers in Southern Oregon over the next few years
Jeremy Hayes, maintenance manager, works on a truck at Siskiyou Transportation in Ashland on Wednesday. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Trucks are parked due to a lack of drivers at Siskiyou Transportation in Ashland on Wednesday. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]
Southern Oregon’s trucking industry is positioned to reap the benefits of a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to train and employ truck drivers.
The program, called “Driving Prosperity,” intends to produce 325 new licensed truck drivers in two years in six southwest Oregon counties, including Jackson and Josephine.
The lead applicant, the nonprofit Southwestern Oregon Workforce Investment Board, which primarily serves Douglas, Coos and Curry counties, will work alongside a variety of partners, including the Rogue Valley Workforce Partnership, to carry out the program
“Some of our larger local trucking companies have 30 trucks sitting idle because they don’t have drivers to drive them,” said Heather Stafford, director of operations for the Medford-based workforce association. “There’s a huge need, and we’re very excited that we’ll have more opportunities to fill it.”
His comments come amid a nationwide truck driver shortage, a challenge that predates the pandemic (an aging workforce) but has worsened because of it (increased demand and disruptions the supply chain).
And while trucking is considered a high-wage industry, it currently has more trucker job postings than driver jobs, with a shortfall of 80,000 drivers. One of the main reasons jobs aren’t being filled fast enough is that training is expensive and doesn’t qualify for federal student financial aid.
Kyle Stevens, executive director of the Southwestern Oregon Workforce Investment Board, said training truck drivers, one of the board’s top priorities, doesn’t come cheap.
“Every year, we contribute as much as we can from our budget,” he said. “But we’re barely affecting the number of people who need truck driver training.”
But the return on investment from the training — producing high-paying jobs in a few weeks — is something the board wants to continue to leverage, Stevens said.
“The limiting factor, for us, has been having the dollars to pay for the training of the participants,” he said. “In previous years, we have not had this additional injection of cash. We are always looking for ways to accommodate more drivers who are interested in attending training.”
The grant, funded through the American Rescue Plan’s “Good Jobs Challenge,” is that cash injection, and Stevens’ board was the only Oregon recipient of the job challenge program, overseen by the Economic Development Administration of the Department of Commerce.
Funding for training programs
With $3.4 million, the board plans to distribute approximately $900,000 to the Rogue Valley Workforce Partnership, which is responsible for creating about 100 new truck driving jobs as a result of Driving Prosperity.
“We’ve also been doing truck driver training, and we have several schools, including Rogue Community College, that do CDL training, and we have a very interesting apprenticeship program, but it’s not enough,” Stafford said. “Now that we have these additional funds, we can pay for a job applicant’s CDL training and license.”
According to statistics provided in the project proposal the labor board provided to EDA, the median annual salary for a truck driver last year in Jackson or Josephine County was $48,755.
“We can lift people out of generational poverty and into high-paying careers,” he said.
Rogue Community College, which already has a commercial truck driving school, will play a role in Driving Prosperity, helping train new drivers and providing scholarships to pay for their education. RCC has four professors who train 18 students per term.
“The Southwestern Oregon Workforce Investment Board’s goal is to train 325 new drivers in six counties, and Rogue Community College certainly hopes we can do our part to increase those numbers,” said Diane Hoover, director of continuing education and workforce development. “Any short-term training that can provide people with a paying wage where they can provide for their families is a good thing. RCC is committed to providing workforce training to members of our Southern Oregon community” .
Stafford added that his labor association’s goal is to increase enrollment at truck driving schools like RCC because “almost all of them are full.”
Impact of the subsidy on local trucking companies
Once new truck drivers graduate from training and an apprenticeship, they will have a number of trucking companies to apply to, including A&M Transport, Siskiyou Transportation, Combined Transport, Professional Transportation Services, Bettendorf Trucking, Ireland Trucking and Terrain Tamers Chip Hauling.
Those companies “committed to hiring a specific number of truck drivers once they were trained and licensed,” according to an account of the project on the Economic Development Administration’s website. Not all representatives from each company responded to inquiries from the Mail Tribune.
But Mike Card, owner of Central Point-based Combined Transport, confirmed that his company aims to hire up to 50 truckers, each of whom could receive bonuses for signing a hiring agreement and practicing safe driving, a salary up to $60,000. with health care and vacation benefits.
“I could hire 50 drivers today,” he said, noting that’s the same number of trucks that are vacant on his lot. “We have been struggling to do the training. We have many senior drivers who will be leaving the industry. We have to train new and younger people, women (and) minorities too.”
Combined Transport has a fleet of 500 trucks, but for Card, 50 trucks out of work is “too high” given customer demand now.
“Generally, we still have customers asking us to move loads that we can’t do because we don’t have enough trucks,” Card said.
Having at least 50 new drivers may seem like “a small drop in the pond” for ride-hailing and the trucking industry, but Card said it would go a long way.
“All my customers would have more timely and faster deliveries. Their customers would get their materials sooner,” Card said. “The supply chain works better that way.”
Mark Gibson, president of Ashland-based Siskiyou Transportation since 1984, said he was in a similar situation. While his seven full-time drivers are busy hauling logs and chips from southern Oregon to northern California, Gibson is still looking to hire. He thinks two employees would do the trick, matching the trucks on his lot that have been there for a while.
“I’m definitely in favor of it, without a doubt,” Gibson said, referring to the Commerce grant. “(The money) doesn’t go to me, but it benefits the industry. It benefits us all.”
Contact reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.
Last weekend, I wrote about Warren Mosler's argument that the Fed's rate hikes could be…
Last weekend, I he wrote on Warren Mosler's argument that the Fed's rate hikes could…
Last week, the chairman of the Fed, Jerome Powell said, "the disinflationary process has begun".…
Earlier this week, I joined Romaine Bostick and Scarlet Fu Bloomberg TV. The Congressional Budget…
Tomorrow morning, I'll be joining CNBC's Squawk Box to talk about a new effort tax…
Former Vice President Mike Pence talks about privatizing Social Security. The remarks came Thursday before…