Phil Steinkamp is well-aware of the growing shortage of truck drivers.”Absolutely, there is a demand,” said Steinkamp, lead instructor of the truck driver training program at John Wood Community College. “There are a lot of opportunities.”A recent report released by the American Trucking Association says the industry needs 50,000 more drivers by the end of this year.”Over the next decade, the trucking industry will need to hire roughly 898,000 new drivers, or an average of nearly 90,000 per year,” said Bob Costello, chief economist of ATA, in numerous published reports.Steinkamp said replacing soon-to-be-retiring baby boomers is one of the industry’s chief concerns. That will account for almost half — 49 percent — of the projected new hires in the coming years.The average age of U.S. truck drivers has gradually crept upward to 49 because of the large number of baby boomers — people those born between 1946 and 1964 — involved in the industry.JWCC is hosting an information session about its truck driver training program at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, at the Workforce Development Center, 4220 Koch’s Lane.The college’s next class starts Jan. 16, meeting from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday for seven weeks, plus one week of “pre-session.”Steinkamp said an average class consists of about 15 students.”The average age of the students is probably around 40, but I’ve had students from 18 to 72,” he said.Steinkamp said the industry has made great progress in recent years in offering a more attractive product.

“The industry realized it needed to become more driver- and family-friendly,” Steinkamp said. “Pay scales have improved, and so have benefits.”Representatives from the training program will give a brief presentation reviewing admission requirements, registration and career opportunities. People attending also will learn about a 16-credit hour, financial-aid eligible logistics/truck driver training certificate and a new eight-week online class.Steinkamp said the JWCC program offers the latest technology to educate students, including a computer lab and industry-standard equipment certified by the Professional Truck Driver Institute.Some area truck driving firms are now partnering with JWCC. Sharkey Transportation is offering scholarship opportunities by paying tuition with a signed contract to drive for the company for one year. Dot Transportation also offers a scholarship program. Other employers may fund tuition costs.More than 70 percent of the nation’s goods are transported by truck.

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