Truck driver jobs still needed in lagging economy

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) - Last Fall we told you about the Truck Driver Training Pilot Initiative Program at ASU Newport. At that time truck driving jobs were hard to come by.

Now, however, things are looking up and the initiative program has many openings for those who want to drive the "big rigs"

As an unemployed oil field worker, Cameron Glenn says he turned to truck driving seeing it as an opportunity for a good steady career.

Cameron is part of the driver initiative program and about halfway through the course at ASU Newport. I climbed up inside a semi with him and he drove me around the course to get a feel of what it was like to operate a semi truck.

"If you're scared you can't get behind the wheel of a big truck like this." Cameron said, going through the gears. "You'll wind up hurting somebody. But you'll never know until you give it a shot though."

Bentley Wallace, the Director of the Business and Transportation Technology Departments at ASUN said the initiative is a great program that many don't know about.

"It finds highly qualified individuals who want to be professional truck drivers. Those who are willing to work for Arkansas-based motor carriers."

Wallace said, "It's a full ride for those who meet the standards.The initiative pays for those who attend school at ASU Newport, earn their CDL and go to work for one of those companies."

I asked Cameron how it was working out for him. "Great!" he said. "They pay for your whole schooling which is a good deal. They pay for your gas, your food, your school, everything out here. Your room and board everything."

Five Arkansas companies, Maverick USA, Schneider National, Stallion Transportation Group, Tyson Foods and Willis Shaw Express form the pool that hire the drivers. In this second round of grants, applicants must still meet DOT standards. But, there has been a change.

Wallace, "This time a neat feature, the students are drafted by one of the participating motor carriers before the student comes to school." Wallace said last go-round there weren't any jobs, recruiters never showed up and the graduates scattered out to find jobs elsewhere.

Cameron will be driving for Schneider National when he finishes.

There are still openings in the Initiative program but that application process can be lengthy,including the application and interview and then waiting for a class slot. Wallace says overall the regular school program is quite busy for those who want to just jump right in.

"Large classes, almost at capacity. But we do have a few slots in each class where we could take a few more students and the jobs are there for students who are coming out of the program." Wallace said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics, there will be nearly 700 trucking jobs in Arkansas through 2013. Cameron says he is looking forward to his new career.

"It's kind of cool to be in a big truck. I like it. Feels good, you know." he said with a grin as he up-shifted to make one more lap.

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