Although the numbers are small so far, students who completed a 10-week, full-time truck-driving program at Milwaukee Area Technical College are on a fast track to successful careers.
“For our two sessions, all the students found jobs as truck drivers,” said Jose Lopez, student services specialist and recruiter for MATC’s technology and applied science programs. “The only reason they wouldn’t find jobs is if they don’t end up pursuing the profession.”
According to MATC, the need for qualified truck drivers in Wisconsin is high and demand is expected to increase due to the retirement of current drivers and the growing need for freight-carrying services.
To enroll, students must be 18 or older and have a CDL learner’s permit, a valid driver’s license with a clean driving record and a high school diploma or GED. Twelve individuals have completed the program, earning a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) and a technical diploma in truck driving.
Program participants spend 90 percent of their class time operating a semi-truck on a course or road. In addition to technical skills, the program emphasizes good employee ethics, according to Peter Jelen, a full-time truck-driving instructor at MATC. Jelen is one of four instructors who work together to teach one class.
“The most important skill I teach my students is showing up at work on time,” Jelen said. “There is no joke when you sign up for this program. If you’re here you have to commit yourself and if you miss class three times you’re out of the program.”
The program costs an upfront $3,200, which includes books, a physical and a drug test. Students can apply for a $1,000 need-based scholarship once they complete the 10 weeks. Most truck drivers earn $40,000 during their first year, which can rise to $50,000-$60,000 after a few years.
The program, which began Oct. 2, accepted a maximum of six students in each of its first two session, but recently expanded that to 12.
“My students come from all walks of life and are very diverse; the youngest I have is 19 and the oldest is 70,” Jelen said. “They do it for the opportunity or for fun because it’s a great way to travel.”
The program works to distinguish itself from other truck driving programs.
“We’re trying to develop this program to make students really, really ready for the job,” Jelen said. “The Yellow Roadway Corporation usually doesn’t accept truck drivers unless they’ve had two years of experience behind the wheel, but they hired our students right out of school.”