With Commercial Truck Drivers In High Demand, Georgia Training Facilities Eye Expansion

A sharp increase in e-commerce during the pandemic has put commercial truck drivers in high demand.

Emil Moffatt/WABE

Georgia lawmakers have added funding to the budget for the upcoming year to expand truck driver training facilities at three of the state’s technical colleges.

It’s part of a wider effort – from both the public and private sector – to fill a shortage of commercial truck drivers.

The retirement of many longtime truck drivers led to the most recent shortage that peaked in the year 2018, says Brad Ball, president of Roadmaster Drivers School. He says the industry was nearly back to full strength when the pandemic hit.

“And then all of a sudden, Americans changed their buying habits, went to e-commerce, people stopped spending their money on service and travel,” said Ball. “And very quickly, the shortage of drivers came back very, very strong.”

With e-commerce up by 40%, according to some estimates, Ball says the increased demand won’t be going away anytime soon. Roadmaster is opening a training school in Savannah, in addition to its facility in Atlanta.

“There are just all kinds of companies knocking our doors down trying to hire our graduates,” said Ball. “It’s a reason why we’re expanding right now because the shortage isn’t expected to go away for perhaps the next ten years.”

He says most drivers are pre-hired even before they begin Roadmaster’s four-week training program.

“The lifestyle as a trucker is becoming more comfortable, I’ll say that,” said Ball. “The equipment that they’re driving in is not like ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ days. It’s loaded with safety features. They’re like a small apartment on the inside.”

“Interest Outweighs Capacity”

The driver’s shortage has also attracted the attention of Georgia lawmakers.

The state Senate has added money to the budget to bolster truck driving programs at three technical schools across the state, including Atlanta Technical College, which has been training drivers for years.

School president Victoria Seals says the training period – just eight weeks at the school’s program – and the high starting salary attracts many to the truck driving profession.

“And so we’ve seen the interest in that program grow to where it is now. But the interest outweighs our capacity, our current capacity,” said Seals.

Seals says plans for their new facility include a six-acre driving range and a building with large enough bays for diesel mechanics to train and practice their craft.

“We want to make sure we’re offering this training at a high level, high quality,” said Seals. “We would increase training both in CDL as well as logistics, supply chain and diesel mechanics from about 100 students per year to over 500 students when we have this dedicated facility.”

Lawmakers have also added money for truck driver training at Piedmont College in North Georgia and Wiregrass Georgia Technical College in Valdosta.