This article originally appeared in California Educator.
The area surrounding Patterson High School in Patterson has become a mecca for distribution centers the last several years, bringing in companies such as Amazon, Grainger, Kohl’s, CVS and Restoration Hardware. Big rigs crowd the highway and roads around the school, carrying goods to and from these centers.
Patterson High, in western Stanislaus County, had already taken advantage of what was happening by creating a Supply Chain and Logistics Management program to train students for entry-level positions at the distribution centers. Then two years ago, Dave Dein, a fourth-grade teacher in the Patterson Joint Unified School District, approached Superintendent Philip Alfano with the idea of starting a commercial truck-driving school.
In the fall of 2017, Patterson High became one of the first high schools in the nation to offer the yearlong program, available to seniors.
“This program helps train students for well-paying jobs in an industry where a shortage of trained drivers looms,” Dein says.
Students have been thrilled.
“The first day I walked into the classroom, I realized [the program] will have a positive impact on my life because of the opportunities trucking has,” says student Manuel Solorio Morales.
Student Javier Diaz completed the program this past September and received over 15 job offers after obtaining his Class A license. He chose to work for Bivio Trucking, a program partner dedicated to creating career paths for Patterson students.
Although Dein, a member of Patterson Association of Teachers, has been an elementary school teacher for 17 years, he is not new to trucking. He began his career in the industry in 1988 to support himself through college. After earning a degree in business administration from CSU Stanislaus, he was hired by a large manufacturing company as a driver/manager. “I logged more than 700,000 accident- and ticket-free miles,” he says.
But Dein felt called to teach, so he did. Eight years later he founded a tuition-free, nonprofit truck-driving school “ministry” called Faith Logistics. For 10 years during his summers off from teaching, he would train individuals recently released from prison and provide job placement assistance. Regulatory changes affecting diesel engines forced the dissolution of the organization.
For the Patterson program, Dein enlisted help from the district’s Career Technical Education director, who was able to secure funding. He created an advisory board of industry partners such as Morning Star Trucking, Penske Logistics, Foster Farms, Northern Refrigerated Transportation and others for guidance and to assist in planning.
The program is based on the highest industry standards set by the Professional Truck Driver Institute as well as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration entry-level driver training standards that go into effect in 2020. Students receive 180 hours of instruction time, with 80 hours devoted to classroom instruction and 100 hours for lab activities. They get hands-on experience on a truck and two trailers donated by Faith Logistics to practice pre-trip inspections, air brake tests and coupling/uncoupling.
In addition, students receive 20 hours of behind-the-wheel training on two Advanced Training Systems truck simulators, where they learn how to shift a 10-speed transmission that includes fuel management shifting techniques, maneuvering the truck through varied simulations and backing up. “These lessons are self-paced, with the simulator providing immediate feedback and remediation,” Dein says.
The trucking program also partners with Worklete, which developed custom training to reduce workplace injuries and certifies students who complete the training. Worklete teaches the proper way to perform industry-specific job functions, such as opening and closing a big rig’s hood, entering and exiting the cab, pulling the fifth wheel release handle, and more.
“When students complete the program, they can choose how they want to obtain their behind-the-wheel training,” Dein says. “They can opt for free training with Morning Star Trucking or enroll in the district’s adult education program, where the district contracts with a local truck-driving school.”
Morning Star trains with automatic transmission trucks, so students receive a restricted license. But they’re guaranteed seasonal employment during the summer and can earn up to $12,000 in three months. “It’s a great opportunity for students who are planning for college to earn money for tuition,” Dein says.
While trucking companies often have minimum age requirements due to insurance mandates, the Patterson High program secured agreements with local companies to hire drivers at the age of 18. Many industry partners have pledged to provide mentoring and on-the-job experience for program graduates in such areas as warehousing and yard shuttling, so when students do reach a company’s minimum age requirement to drive, they have a wealth of additional skills.
“The opportunities from this are huge. We have many good jobs lined up, and free schooling. This gives us the opportunity to have a career.”
— Steven Smith, Patterson High School student in the truck-driving school
“This [program] has influenced me to want to get my Class A license and drive,” says student Steven Smith. “The opportunities from this are huge. We have many good jobs lined up, and free schooling. This gives us the opportunity to have a career.”
“The greatest accomplishment so far is that Patterson High School has proven that a viable, cost-effective training program is possible and can easily be replicated in other communities,” says Dein.
The need is pressing. An American Trucking Association study in 2015 highlighted the driver shortage, now estimated to be 50,000 and possibly ballooning to 174,000 by the year 2026. Dein points out that if programs like the one at Patterson High were created at a countrywide level, many students could partake in the training. With more than 26,000 public high schools across the country, he says, it would only take 10 students from each high school to have a significant impact on the driver shortage.
He hastens to add that it’s not just about providing skills and knowledge for students to earn their driver’s licenses.
“It is about providing them with a comprehensive look into an industry that is currently exploring new technologies, such as hydrogen and electric powertrains and autonomous trucks designed to make trucking safer and more efficient,” he says.
“The legacy of the Patterson High truck-driving program is directly related to the success and accomplishments of those who continue to be an active participant in the future of the transportation industry.”
To that end, he has set up the Faith Logistics
For more information: sites.google.com/patterson.k12.ca.us/truckdrivingschool.
Leilani Barradas and Cheyenne Barfield attend Patterson High School, where Barradas, a senior, is the first female enrolled in the school’s trucking program; Barfield, a junior enrolled in the school’s Supply Chain and Logistics Management class, will join the trucking program next year.
The young women’s passion for trucking is definitely not the norm in the industry, where the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 6 percent of the commercial truck driver workforce is made up of females — up by only 1 percent since 2008.
“It takes great courage and grit to choose to be the first at anything, and I have utmost respect for Leilani to pursue a career in this male-dominated industry,” says Patterson High program coordinator and instructor Dave Dein. “I will do everything I can to support her.” He is equally excited that Barfield is looking at trucking as a career path, saying it will provide her the financial stability, adventure and challenge she is looking for.
Dein understands the importance of supporting these and other young women who choose trucking as a career. “If we expect to see any significant change in the number of women entering into this industry, then there has to be a consistent and intentional course of action for them to have positive female role models they can connect with,” he says.
Dein discovered the nonprofit Women in Trucking, an organization that provides support, resources and networking opportunities. He urged both Barradas and Barfield to attend its “Accelerate!” conference in mid-November and created a GoFundMe page to help raise money for that goal. Any money raised beyond conference expenses will go directly to a college scholarship fund that will be used exclusively for female Patterson High students enrolled in the trucking or Supply Chain and Logistics Management program who want to further their studies.
Says Dein, “My personal goal is for both these young women to find success in the industry where they can come back and be the necessary and needed role models who will inspire a whole new generation of females to carve out their own road in this exciting industry.”