Commerical truck driving students work on parallel parking Central Tech's 80-acre practice lot.

Logan Layden / NPR StateImpact

Students Usually Hit the Road for Trucker Training in Oklahoma

  • Logan Layden

Logan Layden / NPR StateImpact

Commerical truck driving students work on parallel parking Central Tech's 80-acre practice lot.

The United States relies on commercial truckers to transport most of its shipments. But there’s a major shortage of drivers. Thousands more are needed just in Oklahoma.

That shouldn’t be a problem in a recovering economy, but it is.

The largest truck driving school in Oklahoma is at Central Tech in Drumright, 40 miles west of Tulsa.

The practice course has mock parking lots, straightaways, sharp corners and rows of cargo containers. Orange traffic cones are everywhere. Central Tech certifies about 700 new truckers each year, like Jason Majors.

“I just like the freedom of not having a set schedule, somebody not telling me, ‘OK, it’s time for break or it’s time for lunch.’ Basically, I’m my own boss, within limits, of course,” he says.

Logan Layden / NPR StateImpact

Robert McClanahan is the director of Central Tech's trucking program.

Central Tech offers lower tuition than the handful of small, private driving schools, because it’s part of Oklahoma’s state-funded Career Tech system.

There are age restrictions for driving across state lines, so for many students, trucking is a second career. The average student at Central Tech is 41. The course is four-and-a-half weeks long. And due to the location, truckers in training usually have to hit the road to take classes.

“We are actually living in Guthrie,” Majors says. “We’re staying on campus. My wife is actually taking the course with me, so we’re looking at team driving.”

Central Tech is starting four smaller satellite schools in Western Oklahoma, closer to the oil and gas jobs, but the program’s director, Robert McClanahan, says budget cuts have made it hard to meet the demand.

“We had to actually lay off some instructors. I’ve lost about four instructors,” he says. “Where we typically have had up to as many as 15, we’re down to about eight right now, instructors.”