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Kentucky Residents Help Fill Shortage of Truck Drivers with Federally Funded Training

In south central Kentucky, the regional workforce development board is helping to fill the shortage of truck drivers through a federal program that pays for training. Two men say the effort put them on a new road in life, thanks to those involved in the program who encouraged them at every turn.

At Franklin Express in Simpson County, Kentucky, James Boatright recently backed up a truck called a “yard dog.” His training for a Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL, was paid for through the federal Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act. Boatright said he quickly got hired as a local driver. 

"Our company is contracted by Berry Plastics to move their product to the warehouses safely," said Boatright. "I may have to move several trailers in a day, so basically, the farthest I go is across town. There’s another warehouse on down the street some.”

He said when his previous job at a manufacturing company ended, he went to the Kentucky Career Center in Bowling Green.

“So I get there and I meet this lady, her name is Amy Settles," said Boatright. "She’s a fantastic person.”

Boatright said she told him about the CDL course at South Central Kentucky Community and Technical College, and helped him manage all the details.

“She really was a ray of hope for me in a time that was very dark because I do have two small children," said Boatright. "One of them is a three-year-old little girl who is autistic. They depend on me, and that’s why I’ve changed my life, is because of the fact that I have no room for error anymore.” 

Boatright is 31 and said he had a high school English teacher who encouraged his writing talent, so he planned to major in journalism at Western Kentucky University. But when he was 19 and at WKU, his life took a detour. 

“During that time my father had leukemia and he passed away. I really felt like he was the only person that I had in this world," said Boatright. "And when he died it’s like, OK, so now you have nobody, so what do you do? I just happened to know some people that sold marijuana, and I knew that I could get into that and make a little money.”

That little money turned out to be an expensive mistake. He ended up going to prison.

“After I got out, I came home, and it was kind of hard for me to find a job,” he said.

Boatright said he found people in the CDL program who made it easy to stay on the high road. 

“There’s a gentleman there, he’s the head instructor, his name is Oakley Vaughn, and he’s probably one of the finest individuals that I’ve run across in my life," said Boatright. "It’s not only him. It’s everybody and the staff of that school. They will not quit on you, unless you quit on yourself. The only way that you would not get your license would be if you gave up.”

President and CEO of the South Central Workforce Development Board Robert Boone said people dedicated to helping others are at the heart of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, or WIOA.   

"That’s the beauty of WIOA program, too, is we fund the program and we work with them through the program, and then after the program on finding a job," said Boone. "Because our number one focus is not the credential, it is the job. And not only is it the job, it’s retention of the job. It’s about changing lives.”

Boone said at least three people who were previously homeless have completed the CDL training program and are now employed and earning good incomes. He said the regional workforce board worked with SKYCTC to launch the program in July 2018 after a study revealed the 10-county region was short 400 to 500 truck drivers.

Brian Miller, 39, said after being incarcerated for trafficking marijuana, his life took a positive turn when he came home and went to the Kentuky Career Center in Bowling Green to find out about getting his Commercial Driver’s License. 

“Amy Settles, she was so nice. She took care of everything that I needed and she even put me onto a grant to where they would pay me to go to school as well," said Miller. "I got paid to go to school and they paid for the schooling. I don’t see how you can go wrong with that.”

Miller has three children and a stepson and said he earns a good living working for Taz Trucking in Warren County, driving to destinations within 100 miles. 

“I go home every night, which is a good thing, especially with me coming home back to my family,” he said. Miller.

When it comes to his career and his company, Miller said there’s nowhere else he wants to go.

“Especially, you know, the place that I’m at right now, Taz Trucking. They’re excellent people," said Miller. "Here, it’s just like a start and stop point for me.”  

Taz Trucking Planning Manager Chris Fulkerson said the Warren County transportation company has hired two drivers who were trained through the WIOA program at SKYCTC and they've both worked out well. He said Taz Trucking currently has a fleet of 110 Trucks.

We’re in probably the second year of a significant driver shortage nationwide. There’s always more freight and more and more trucks to fill than we seem to have drivers. It’s absolutely the drivers market," said Fulkerson. "We’re always looking for new employees We just added 10 trucks and 15 new trailers to our fleet, so as we continue to expand our capacity we need new qualified drivers every week.”

The regional CDL program has funded training for 76 men and 14 women since it began in July 2018. It has expanded to Hart County to give residents in that part of the region an opportunity to participate in the WIOA training program. Of those 90 people who have been enrolled in the CDL program, 57 have jobs and 26 are still in training.

They’re in a high demand career. The American Trucking Associations reports there's currently a shortage of 60,000 drivers. That shortage is expected to increase to 100,000 in the next few years.

Rhonda Miller joined WKU Public Radio in 2015. She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.
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