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Trucking driver program a success

July 28, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The truck driver training program at Hagerstown Community College is in high gear, according to a school representative.

In the four years since the college began offering training classes, 250 students have graduated and all but two have obtained licenses, according to Program Coordinator Tammy Smith.

With a high demand for drivers in the industry, it benefits local trucking companies to be able to hire truckers trained in the HCC course, Smith said.

"We have a very good reputation with a lot of companies," she said. "We put out very good drivers."

Some companies send recruiters to the college and nine out of 10 students have jobs before the class is over, Smith said.

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Expedited Services Inc., Mack Trucks Inc., D.M Bowman Inc., USA Cartage Inc. and Hoffman Transport in Greencastle, Pa., are among the businesses that support the college program.

Industry representatives encouraged HCC to offer the training program and formed an advisory committee to help establish it.

"It's an example of how a public community college can be quickly responsive to a work force issue," said HCC President Norman Shea.

Some people criticize the college for its vocational classes, but a lot of jobs don't require bachelor's degree, Shea said. "We try to prepare people for the work force of today," he said.

"Without schools like the one out at HCC our industry would really be hurting," said Dan Spreng, president of Expedited Services. "I think it's been a very positive force for our industry."

Driving a truck is hard, stressful work and turnover rates are high, said Spreng. Drivers can spend 10 consecutive days on the road and travel 125,000 miles in a year.

"The demands of the industry and the job itself aren't conducive to a good home or family life," he said. "It takes a special kind of person."

Deregulation led to lower salaries and the average driver makes less than drivers did in the 1980s, Spreng said.

"Good drivers are hard to find and they are harder to keep," he said. "It's pretty much a driver's market."

The curriculum for the weekday class consists of 320 hours over an eight-week period. Students spend about 90 hours in the classroom, 120 hours on first-hand maneuvering and another 110 hours on city streets and highways.

Weekend classes also are available.

To enroll, students must be at least 21 years old. They generally must have fewer than three points on their licenses and no drug or alcohol convictions on their driving records. They must pass a Department of Transportation physical and drug screening.

The college has six licensed instructors who prepare students to take required tests in Pennsylvania, Maryland or West Virginia. The teachers also can train students to drive buses, tankers or vehicles hauling hazardous materials.

Students train on Mack Trucks property, where the college has an office, a classroom and a two-acre driving range. The college has five trucks donated by Mack.

Prospective drivers must demonstrate competency before going further. "We're certainly not going to put someone on the road if they're not really ready," said Smith.

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