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October 3, 2018

Driver shortage drives new wood products training program

Courtesy / Tri-County Technical Center
Courtesy / Tri-County Technical Center
Tri-County Technical Center in Dexter plans to build on its commercial driver's license training program by training students in how to load and drive logging trucks.

Tri-County Technical Center in Dexter plans to build on its commercial driver's license training program by training students in how to load and drive logging trucks.

The center is seeking a commercial truck driving instructor for the new module, which is being offered in partnership with members of the logging industry, the center's commercial truck driving instructor, Vicki Kimball, told Mainebiz. The program will start with a maximum of 10 students. Students will have the potential opportunity to either intern with a company during summer months or be selected for an apprenticeship opportunity leading to full-time employment.

According to its website, the center provides career and technical education for high school students residing in the region.

Kimball has been with the center for 11 years. The commercial truck driving program is for high school juniors and seniors, and she also offers adult education classes. The program attracts 20 to 24 students per year.

"Maine is the only state in the country that trains and licenses students under the age of 18," she noted.

Kimball said the log truck driving module was driven by Weyerhaeuser, the timberlands and wood products company that owns 1.8 million acres in Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin, according to its website.

The wood products driver program stems directly from an overall driver shortage, she said.

"We just finished the final planning meeting for this particular training program," said Kimball. "Weyerhaeuser approached us for a training module to add log truck driver training so we can feed that industry for CDL operators because they have a shortage. They raised the money. We're searching for an instructor for that now."

Kimball said that, pending recruitment of an instructor, the program could be in place in November.

Kimball said the driver shortage has driven up pay.

"The pay is fantastic as a driver," she said. "When I started as a CDL operator 25 years ago, I was making $9 per hour and that was pretty good." Graduates from her program might today start out at perhaps $13 or $14 per hour but quickly move up to $20 per hour or more, depending on the job. She cited one student who was making $36,000 plus benefits within six months of graduating from the center.

"I think companies are realizing that, getting and keeping a good driver, they're going to have to pay for them," she said.

According to a presentation called "Forest trucking industry in Maine: A review on challenges and resolutions" by Anil Koirala and Anil Raj Kizha, with the University of Maine's School of Forest Resources, trucking is no small consideration for Maine's forest products industry. On any given business day of the year, 2,300 truckloads of Maine forest wood are on the road, traveling an average of 90 miles one-way. The transportation of forest products comprises around 20% to 50% of the entire operational costs.

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