SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — A new truck driving training school in Savannah aims to help tackle a nationwide driver shortage and prepare students for employment.
Roadmaster Drivers School, which runs 15 locations across the country, opened its Savannah facility a little over a month ago.
“We generally go where the jobs are, and this is a great thoroughfare of trucking,” said Roadmaster Drivers School President Brad Ball.
“Certainly, we needed to help the carriers find more drivers in this area, and it’s a great opportunity for the folks of Savannah,” Ball told WSAV NOW.
The new school, located on Artley Road, currently has about 40 students enrolled in its four-week programs.
They have the chance to learn essential skills required to earn their Class A commercial driver’s license and become professional truck operators.
“Job security is huge in trucking because you can’t outsource truckers to another country; there’s no pay gap related to race or gender, and people get paid by the mile,” Ball said.
“It’s a great opportunity for folks that are unemployed or underemployed,” he said. “Even those that don’t have any education can get right into trucking, and in a matter of about four weeks, they can be on the road in a new career.”
He notes that the trucking industry has seen a shortage in drivers over the past decade.
“It’s primarily due to the age of the truck drivers that are retiring,” Ball explained.
“Generally, they’re 45 to 50 years old, and many of them are going to be retiring, so that’s going to outpace the demand for drivers,” he said.
“COVID-19 has actually made the shortage even worse because a lot of the business has moved to e-commerce, and people have been spending less on service and travel,” he added.
The tourism industry in Savannah faced negative impacts last year, with employment in the city’s leisure and hospitality sectors dropping almost 20% from 2019, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Those who lost hospitality jobs during the pandemic may find trucking to be a logical alternative, Ball says.
“We’ve always known that trucking was somewhat recession-proof, and now it’s proven to be pandemic-proof, as well, and clearly, those people that were in hospitality were some of the people harmed the most,” Ball said.
“I think some of those people really felt like they needed to find something that had great job security and that they wouldn’t feel like there’s a potential for the loss of income for their families,” he said.
Like much of the hospitality industry, trucking companies don’t require a bachelor’s degree, and over 55% of Georgians meet trucking’s education requirements.
“You can either have a GED or high school diploma, or you can pass an entrance exam, which just ensures that you have basic understanding of the English language and ability to benefit from the course,” Ball said.
“There’s no requirement such as a degree or anything like that; we basically need to take a look at a background check and a motor vehicle report,” he said.
Laderion Tutt, a 21-year-old driving student from Harlem, Georgia, says he’s been learning at the school for three weeks.
He plans to follow in the truck-driving footsteps of several family members.
“The experience is one of a kind, not everybody gets a chance to do it,” Tutt shared.
“I’ve learned a lot more than I thought I knew; they teach you everything, parts of the truck, maneuvers, driving,” he said.
The program’s first week begins in a classroom. By week two, students get an up-close look at the trucks while learning about pre-trip inspections, safety and truck operation.
From there, Ball says they practice driving the trucks on a closed course before moving out onto the road during their fourth week.
By the time Tutt and his fellow students complete the program, Ball says they’ll soon be able to find work in the field, likely earning around $50,000 in their first year on the road.
“Most of our drivers here will go to work for an over-the-road trucking company, and that’s one of the major companies like Werner Enterprises, and those companies are literally giving pre-hires to every one of our students,” Ball explained.
“The day they start school, we screen them to make sure that they are qualified to go to work,” he said.
“All of our students know where they’re going to work, and just in the first week of school, they already have usually picked out their employer,” he added.
Roadmaster Drivers School of Savannah plans to host an official grand opening event for prospective drivers and their families at the end of April.
The two-day event will take place on April 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and April 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.