By ERIC KLUMP
On a chilly Sunday morning, 10 Pima Community College students and instructors gather at a small, empty lot south of Valencia Road.
As an instructor monitors, students take turns slowly maneuvering an 18-wheel tractor-trailer truck though cones to practice parking and driving in reverse.
The students are enrolled in Pima’s Truck Driver Training Program, working to earn a commercial driver’s license.
In most vocational courses, students graduate with certification that lets them apply for jobs. Students in the truck driving program will likely leave with employment already set up.
“There are 157,000 jobs available right now nationwide,” faculty adviser Dan M. Offret said.
The shortage of commercial drivers allows Pima to provide students with two or three prehire letters when they begin training, Offret said. Prehire letters are essentially job offers awaiting students who complete the program.
Students also leave with a sense of kinship, instructor Sandy McCoskey said. After starting the program as strangers, students often end the training with a group barbecue.
“We do a newsletter to keep them in touch,” McCoskey added. “It’s very important to have that identification, to know that Pima is their school.”
The program mirrors the changing world of truck driving, training both male and female students in a wide variety of ages.
Student Maryln Juan said she has always loved driving, and sometimes rode with her trucker brother.
“For me, right now, it was the ability to drive that big truck,” she said of her main reason for joining the training program.
Students should not expect an easy ride.
No financial aid is available, Offret said. That means students must pay $3,200 out of pocket unless they have GI Bill benefits or special grants.
Truck driver training includes both classroom instruction and hands-on practice. Students must pass written and driving tests to obtain their commercial license.
The program is based at Community Campus. For further information, call 206-2744.