ENID — Keep on truckin’
Autry Tech has partnered with Central Tech of Drumright to offer commercial driver’s license training. Central Tech currently brings instructors and three trucks to Enid every third month for a comprehensive 23-day CDL course.
But, the class is limited to six students per session and is not meeting the current demand for new drivers.
Travis Perrin, CDL and heavy equipment operator training coordinator at Autry Tech, said the CDL classes filled early for the February and May courses, and enrollment already is open for the July course.
In hopes of better meeting the demand, Oklahoma CareerTech currently is in the process of buying six trucks and trailers to establish a permanent CDL course at Autry Tech.
Perrin said a variety of students are drawn to the CDL course by good wages, ample job openings and the promise of local routes.
His recent courses have included everyone from experienced drivers to “people who have never even sat in a truck before.”
The one thing they all seem to have in common: They’re attracted to an industry that now, on average, is paying entry-level drivers $40,000 per year.
“There’s a lot of people who are either looking for a new career or they’re retired and aren’t ready to head for the house yet, and they’re looking at the demand for CDL drivers, and the pay that goes along with it is sparking a lot of interest,” Perrin said. “And, in a lot of the oil field truck jobs around here, you’re home every night. Most of them are day runs or two-day runs.”
Experience is needed
While prospective drivers may be drawn to oil field trucking by prospects of good wages, many of the open positions require years of experience and advanced qualifications.
Nowhere is that more true than in the world of tanker truck driving.
“Tank truck drivers aren’t born, they’re made, and not every truck driver can be a tank truck driver,” said Greg Hodgen, president and chief operating officer of Groendyke Transport.
Groendyke operates more than 1,000 tanker trucks at 31 locations spread between 12 states.
Hodgen said increased activity in the oil and gas industry has increased demand for tanker truck drivers faster than they can be trained.
“It’s certainly an issue that has affected us around the country,” Hodgen said. “A lot of our facilities are in areas where these plays are active, and it has affected our pool of available applicants.”
He said recruiting tanker drivers “is much more difficult now, particularly in the southwest U.S. and Rocky Mountain areas.”
“Finding qualified applicants is more difficult, not only in being able to find skilled drivers but also in the availability of skilled mechanics and maintenance personnel.”
Hodgen said it’s difficult to meet a surging demand for tanker drivers because it takes years for a truck driver to attain the skills and certifications needed to drive tank trucks, especially hauling hazardous materials.
Drivers must be at least 23 years old, be a U.S. citizen, pass a federal background check to be eligible for a haz-mat certification and be able to obtain an tanker certification.
“All of those things start to narrow down the field of available drivers,” Hodgen said. “The big kicker is they have to have the experience needed to pull a tanker. Pulling a tanker is a lot different than hauling a van full of dry freight, and there’s a certain level of experience required.”
Hodgen said the average age of hazmat tanker drivers is in their early 50s, reflecting the time and experience required to fill the job.
And, Hodgen said, demand is growing faster than new drivers can reach the threshold required to drive a tank truck.
“We can’t meet the demand ... we have more opportunities than we can take advantage of,” Hodgen said. “If safety is a value, then it doesn’t change, and you view all of your applicants through that prism. And, if your applicants don’t meet your standard, which is pretty high, you can’t hire them.”