Trucking industry faces shortage, Hawkeye Community College steps up program

By: Kera Mashek, KWWL
Date Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012

WATERLOO (KWWL) - Did you know there's a field right now in the US with some 400,000 jobs waiting to be filled?
The over-the-road trucking business is booming, and a generation of drivers is retiring. Now there's a brand new facility in eastern Iowa helping train new truck drivers.

"I see women driving these big rigs all the time and that makes it more like a competitive challenge. If they can get in there and drive that big old truck, I know I can do it," Kizzy Taylor said.

Kizzy Taylor already has a degree in mortuary science and is now in truck driving school at Hawkeye Community College. Much like the truck she's driving, her dreams are big.

"My dad owns a few trucks here in Waterloo and is going to be retiring next year. So it's my dream to take over where he left off, as well as open my own funeral home, which will take some time. So this is a stepping stone to what my ultimate goal is," said Taylor.

Taylor's among hundreds of students from across the country enrolled in Hawkeye's truck driver training program. The program is now operating from a specially designed brand new $3.5 million dollar facility complete with a massive driving range.

"That's allowing us to really step up our capacity and try to provide the drivers the industry needs," said Marty Kroenecke, Hawkeye’s Regional Transportation Training Center instructor.

Before students get behind the wheel, they train with driving simulators. With simulator training under their belt, students in either six or 16-week training programs can hit then the highway. As demand grows for trained drivers, trucking companies are making the industry more attractive.

"Even the big companies now have guaranteed home time. They schedule you maybe 10 days out and make sure you get home. The pay and benefit packages in the industry have grown exponentially," said Kroenecke.

Once training is complete, many companies will fully reimburse students for their schooling. It's training for a one-of-a-kind career with miles of opportunity ahead.

Since the new truck driving center at Hawkeye Community College opened in March, more than 300 students have gone through its programs. Because students earn college credit for the semester-trucking class, those enrolled are eligible for financial aid, including federal Pell grants.

Additional Notes: The Regional Transportation Training Center at Hawkeye Community College also does training for bus driving services and motorcycle safety classes.

In addition to driving simulators, the facility owns "Skid Monster" training cars, which offer drivers a chance to experience real road challenges: safely maneuvering around obstacles, driving in dangerous conditions, and properly controlling a vehicle. The general public can enroll in classes using the "Skid Monster" cars. It's hoped eventually such courses will allow drivers to be eligible for insurance discounts, and potentially even credits for court-ordered defensive driver training.

Hawkeye also opens the truck driving facility to local police departments for pursuit training, and it is used by the college's police science program students.

The new facility is open seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day, allowing students in some programs to complete their programs when it works for them.