Spouses Amber and Ben Crawford are steering the Commercial Driver’s License program at Penn Commercial. She is in charge of admissions and recruiting, he is the lead instructor at the business/technical school in South Strabane Township.

Training is conducted in the classroom and on trucks at the Oak Spring Road campus, with four instructors preparing students for the state’s CDL exam for Class “A” commercial vehicles. It’s an intensive program, but one that lasts only six weeks, and the payoff can be lucrative.

“With a CDL, you can make $45,000 to $50,000 starting out,” Amber said. “That’s not bad for an 18- or 22-year-old, or a 25- to 30-year-old. And when you get experience, you can run up to $70,000, $80,000, $90,000. Not bad for six weeks of training.”

Certainly, and opportunities abound.

There is a massive demand for CDL-certified drivers, at a time when the oil and gas industry is percolating, the Beaver County cracker plant is simmering, manufacturing is gaining steam and school districts nationwide are desperate for bus operators.

Yet, while demand is at a peak, supply is woefully short. Many people don’t even pursue such a vocation. Their reasons include: a parental emphasis on college, despite the prospect of daunting post-graduate debt; diminished interest in the trades; the reputedly tedious nature of training and testing; and those damning drug tests.

Energy companies, their downstream and upstream partners, trucking firms, schools and manufacturers are looking for people and not finding enough of them. Some are offering incentives, including signing bonuses and offers to pay for most or all training, clearances and tests.

Waste Management, in a classified ad in last Sunday’s Observer-Reporter, said it was conducting hiring events on Wednesdays in June, offering “up to $7,000 in bonuses!”

“There’s a need for the 18- to 21-(year-old) demographic,” Amber Crawford said. “There is a lot of work.”

Joseph Orr concurred. The superintendent of Jefferson-Morgan schools told the O-R’s Katie Anderson last month: “There’s a shortage in our area for CDL operators. There’s no reason kids can’t be part of that training while in high school.”

Two of the four career and technology centers in Washington and Greene counties have CDL programs. A third will soon join them.

Penn Commercial and Western Area Career and Technology Center, in Chartiers Township, do offer the classes. Mon Valley Career & Technology Center, in Speers, no longer does, but that may change. Neil Henehan, Mon Valley’s director, said his school is “looking at ways to offer” this program to high school-age students and adults.

And when the school year begins in a couple of months, Greene County Career and Technology Center will implement a CDL program. The school is doing so in partnership with Penn Commercial, and will offer the course in two parts: safety certifications related to oil and gas, then CDL training.

Mark Krupa, director of the center, told the O-R last month: “This is something the joint operating committee and (Greene County school) superintendents have wanted for a long time.”

A CDL driver in Pennsylvania, however, has to be a legal adult. He or she must be at least 18 and have a valid non-commercial driver’s license. But said driver cannot cross state lines before turning 21.

Classes are expensive, running roughly $6,000, although funding may be available from outside sources. Washington-based Southwest Training Services Inc., according to Orr, is funding the majority of the fledgling GCCTC program.

A CDL candidate must pass a road test, then pay license and endorsement fees to get the license. The standard license costs $74.50 and is valid for four years. A driver may opt to pay $44 for a two-year license.

There are three CDL classifications in Pennsylvania, according to the state Department of Transportation’s Department of Motor Vehicles website, www.dmv.pa.gov:

  • Class A: A combination vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of at least 26,001 pounds, provided the GVWR of the towed vehicle tops 10,000 pounds.
  • Class B: A single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, or such a vehicle towing one that is not more than 10,000 pounds.
  • Class C: A single vehicle with a GVWR under 26,001 pounds if it is carrying hazardous materials requiring a placard; is designed for 16-plus passengers, including the driver; or, is a school bus.

Applicants who want to drive a specific type of vehicle also must acquire a commercial endorsement. Endorsement H, for example, enables a driver to transport hazardous materials.

Good pay is a distinct possibility for newly minted CDL possessors, but it is not guaranteed. Representatives from two trucking firms that transport water to and from fracking sites for Range Resources said they demand a prescribed level of experience before hiring.

“We don’t hire right out of school. The oil and gas industry has more stringent insurance requirements,” said Andy Joyner, vice president of business development for Equipment Transport, a Carlisle-based company with 400-plus drivers nationwide. The firm has a significant presence in oil-rich west Texas and south Texas.

Equipment Transport has a terminal in Belle Vernon and, according to Joyner, plans to open one in Washington within a few months.

“To work for us,” he said, “you have to have a CDL for a minimum of two years. We also require one year of experience similar to what we do – and it can be milk-hauling, timber, anything with shifting loads. It’s different than just being on the road.”

“We require one to three years in the field, driving water or dump trucks,” said Bo Jack, president of sales and water management at Approved Site Services. The Southpointe-based firm has 46 drivers.

Both acknowledged that there is a shortage of CDL drivers. “We find this Northeast market to be tougher than even Texas,” Joyner said.

Lack of sufficient licensed drivers is having a severe impact on school busing throughout the U.S. The O-R did a local-impact story on this issue last fall, and the reporter found that the process dissuaded many people from pursuing that avenue.

A CDL is required to operate a yellow bus with overhead lights, and securing one involves 20-plus hours of training, having a clean driving record and submitting to physicals, background checks, fingerprinting and drug tests. (School van drivers don’t need a CDL.)

“This is a national epidemic. Everywhere you go, there is a ‘Need Drivers’ sign,” said Dale Lyons, general manager of Schweinebraten Bus Co., a South Strabane company that serves schools exclusively.

“We’ve done just about everything to get people (to apply),” he added.

That was the sentiment of administrators at Parkside Middle School in Manassas, Va., last fall. In need of bus drivers, the administrators invited teachers to get CDLs and start driving, for $18.50 per hour on top of their regular salaries.

There certainly is a need, but one that is woefully unfulfilled. Amber Crawford believes that a lot of people are missing the boat, a transportation mode that does not entail a CDL.

“Trucking is a nice, solid industry,” she said. “You can go state to state. If you move, you can find a job.

“Trucking is everywhere.”

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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