When Colton Lee was laid off in early 2015 from his job in the oilfield, he reconsidered what he wanted to do with his life.
He wanted a job that would provide him a livable wage and good benefits. Since his father had been a truck driver, he decided to enroll in the Commercial Driver Development Program at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.
Not long after earning a commercial driver’s licensure, he had too many job offers to choose from. He was receiving thousands of emails and numerous phone calls from employers wanting to hire him as a truck driver, and quickly found employment in the field thanks to the program at UAFS, which he chose due to its small class sizes, short duration, and affordability.
“When I was looking at commercial driving programs, I thought I was going to have to spend $7,000 for an eight to 12 week class with 20 people,” Lee said.
Instead, UAFS offered a four week program free of charge through a grant from the Department of Workforce Services. Although the grant expired in September, the program is still one of the most affordable in the region for commercial truck driving, charging only $2,700 for the four-week course.
Lee, along with four other students, enrolled in the program, which started with a general knowledge course complemented by driving training to give students hands-on learning necessary to be ready for the workforce.
“All the instructors had driving experience and had great insight on how to operate a truck more efficiently,” Lee said. “The instructors would work one-on-one with us, and that close interaction really impressed me.”
After the first week of classes, students travel to the Arkansas State Police Headquarters to take a written exam to receive a permit to continue with the driving portion of the coursework.
After receiving his licensure, Lee began working as a truck driver for a local company before finding employment as an interstate driver. Now, Lee travels all throughout the United States transporting goods and even recently earned recognition as Driver of the Quarter.
Lee’s story is a common one for those entering the professional truck driving profession, as the field experiences a driver’s shortage that UAFS has addressed through the driving program.
More than 400 residents have received a certificate in commercial driver’s licensure in the last three years, with more than 90 percent of those finding employment as truck driver’s after completion of the program.
While the program boasts plenty of qualities appealing to someone wanting to quickly enter the workforce, it also has been successful due to partnerships with key employers in the region.
One of those industry partners is USA Truck. Steve Brantley, director of driver recruiting, said seven drivers have completed the program at UAFS and are currently working at the company. Brantley said he expects a total of 15 workers to complete the program before the end of the year.
“Our partnership with UAFS is one of the key partnerships in our business,” Brantley said. “We have a lot of office employees that went to UAFS or have a background from there. Probably some of the most skillful new drivers that we bring on are graduates of the program. We’re very proud and appreciative of UAFS and we hope to help them continue to thrive.”
In addition to commercial driving, the CBPD also offers road-skills tests that license holders must take to renew their licensure and offers defensive driving trainer courses as well.
About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Through a small campus, dedicated professors, and the university’s unique bond with its community, students at UAFS are able to do more in the areas they are passionate about, both on- and off-campus, in a way that prepares them for post-graduate success. To find out how you can do more at UAFS, visit www.uafs.edu/do-more.