Rexburg Center Street semi

A 2018 file photo of a semi driver turning onto Center Street out of a parking lot in Rexburg. A national shortage of drivers has led to increased enrollment at Sage Truck Driving School in Blackfoot, but the U.S. is experiencing a shortage of about 80,000 drivers, the Associated Press reported. Content Exchange

A national shortage of truck drivers has led more people in the eastern Idaho region to seek the “life-changing” career of truck driving.

“People don’t realize that trucking can be a life-changing event in their lives,” said Lynn Jorgensen, Blackfoot Sage Truck Driving School director. “You never know if you’re going to be really good at it unless you give it a try.”

More people across the country are seeking trucking as a career. The Associated Press reported on Nov. 19 that The U.S. is about 80,000 drivers short which has helped fuel enrollment at truck driving schools across the country.

Jorgensen said his school has also seen a recent increase in enrollment, particularly in the summer. The school had about 30 people taking classes in November, which is a little higher than the average monthly enrollment Jorgensen has seen in his 17 years as the school’s director. Another 20 people are seeking to enroll and there are 28 students scheduled to take classes in December, he said.

“That’s quite a few for us,” Jorgensen said.

Student demographics at the school have varied, Jorgensen said. This year he’s had more younger students out of high school that have shown interest in trucking, but most students range between 35-55, he said.

Sage students usually take a four or five-week class, depending on their driving experience. Jorgensen said Sage is different from other trucking schools because instructors will spend one-on-one time with students as they’re driving which helps instructors tailor a student’s training to what they need most. Because of this, 97% of students obtain their commercial driver's license on their first try after taking classes, he said.

Sage has school locations across the country and three in Idaho. The two other schools are located in Caldwell and Coeur d'Alene.

Jorgensen said he believes the driver shortage to be higher than the 80,000 that the Associated Press reported based on how often companies are calling him to ask for drivers. 

“Truck companies that have never contacted me before are now calling me and begging for drivers,” he said.

Jason Andrus, chief financial officer of Doug Andrus Distributing, said his company has 30 unseated trucks. The shortage has been a nationwide issue for the last few years, he said. While there has been an increase of interested drivers, he said it is harder to replace the older drivers who are retiring because people can't drive a truck across state lines until they’re 21.

The Biden Infrastructure act does include an apprenticeship pilot program for commercial driver’s license holders under the age of 21 to operate in interstate commerce, which Andrus said he thinks will help increase drivers.

The job is not for everyone, Jorgensen said. Many people have a hard time with the time commitment of a driver’s schedule and staying away from their families for extended periods of time.

Doug Andrus is looking to improve the working lifestyle for its drivers by allowing them to take one week on and then the next week off so drivers can spend more time with their family, Andrus said.

“It’s a challenging lifestyle so we’re looking at ways to improve that lifestyle,” Andrus said.

While the industry can be challenging for some, Jorgensen said it can also be rewarding for drivers who stick with it. Most drivers have the opportunity to earn over $52,000 a year coming right out of trucking school, and Jorgensen often receives visits from former students who come back to thank him for the benefits they’ve obtained from trucking.

The shortage of drivers is problematic for nearly every single industry. Andrus said it creates shipping delays and this is one of the major contributing factors of the country’s supply chain issues for businesses. It is an essential industry across the country and accounted for nearly 80% of intrastate shipments in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“You go to a grocery store, probably 100% of all that stuff comes from a truck,” Jorgensen said. “What would Walmart look like if no truck drivers showed up for one week … We need truck drivers.”

Sage is planning to open a school in Idaho Falls, Jorgensen said. He is not sure when it will open because of ongoing truck shortages that are creating a challenge to find trucks for students to train in. Finding instructors has also been a challenge and many Sage schools have open instructor positions, he said.

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