Enrollment Up At Truck Driving Schools

Some job seekers are finding they really need to shift gears when pursuing their new job path. In the past year, truck driving schools nationwide have seen a 20 percent increase in people looking to take to the open road.

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And here are some news about job seekers shifting gears. In the past year, truck driving schools have seen a 20 percent increase in people looking to explore life on the open road. Gloria Hillard reports.

(Soundbite of machinery)

GLORIA HILLARD: Now, one of the most important things you'll learn your first day in the cab of an 18 wheel, 80,000 pound truck is backing up.

Mr. KIRK HARDCASTLE(ph) (Instructor, Western Truck School): Because whatever way you want that trailer to go, you turn the steering wheel the opposite way. So, as he's coming back, he's going to want that trailer at some point back here. To come left, he'll be turning his wheel right. See, and there he goes with it, turn it right but probably too much. Let's see.

HILLARD: Now, he's heading towards us now.

Mr. HARDCASTLE: Yes. So, you got to be quick around here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HILLARD: Kirk Hardcastle, an instructor for Western Truck School in San Diego, is a former trucker with more than a million miles on the road and a couple tattoos to show for it.

Mr. HARDCASTLE: Trucking is a hard job out there on the road, so it's just very demanding.

HILLARD: And in an economy where jobs are in demand, life on the road is starting to look a little more rosy. Dawn Williams, admissions director for the schools says before the recession, she saw about 30 people a week. Today, it's closer to 50.

Ms. DAWN WILLIAMS (Admissions Director, Western Truck School): We've had dentists in here, we've had chiropractors in here, we've had a lot of real estate people in here.

HILLARD: 58-year-old Bob Werdorf(ph), a former fireman and his wife Vicky(ph) are getting to start classes. Their retirement savings took a hit. Now they're looking to be hired as a husband and wife driving team.

Mr. BOB WERDORF: Some of the happiest times during our 31 years of marriage has been working together.

Ms. VICKY WERDORF: We both enjoy driving and being on the road. And this is a way that we're going to be able to go to different states that we would not be able to afford to go.

HILLARD: In a classroom with trucking posters on the wall and a stack of glossy company pamphlets on the table, job recruiter Bill Renicke(ph) is giving his best sales pitch to the students. He hopes when they graduate, they'll consider coming to work for his company, Covenant Transport.

MR. BILL RENICKE (Job Recruiter, Covenant Transport): Once they get their Class A License or their CDL, if they aren't working, there's only one person to blame and that's them because there is work out there.

HILLARD: That was confirmed by the American Trucking Association, although the industry has seen a slowdown in the recession. National companies like Covenant are still hiring long haul drivers. But Western's Dawn Williams admits the big trucks aren't for everyone.

Ms. WILLIAMS: By the time you go through the driving course, you pretty much have a feel whether or not this is going to be something you like. When you go through the actual training with the different companies that's when you're going to know whether you have what it takes to make a truck driver.

HILLARD: It can be days and weeks away from home, bad weather, truck stop laundry and showers. Bob and Vicky Werdorf say they have done their research and have heard both the good and the bad.

Ms. WERDORF: He sleeps five hours and I'll be driving. I'll sleep five hours, he'll drive. And the nice thing is we can set the truck up however we want. We can put a computer in there, you can put your refrigerator in there, your microwave, we're ready to go. If they tell me tomorrow I had to go on the road, I'm ready.

HILLARD: Well, not quite. First, you'll have to master eight gears, the air brake test, the right hand turn, the alley dock, the parallel park and treading a more than 60 foot tractor trailer between a row of orange cones.

Mr. HARDCASTLE: Left. That's right. Need to go left, (unintelligible) towards some cones. That's right. Stop.

HILLARD: For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.

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