EGCC Helps Fill Demand for Truck Drivers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Lisa Maiden’s life has not been easy. She’s survived breast cancer. She’s buried two children. She’s rearing her grandson. 

She’s 54 years old and doing something she’s always wanted to do: get her commercial driver’s license. And when her grandson graduates from Struthers High School next spring, she’s hitting the open road in a tractor-trailer. 

Maiden is a student in the CDL program at Eastern Gateway Community College. The specialty license is required to operate a tractor-trailer for commercial use. 

“I’ve always wanted to be a truck driver and I had little kids so I couldn’t do it. And then my son is a truck driver and I told him he was living out my dream,” Maiden says. “I am a breast cancer survivor. I decided I fought hard enough to live and battle that disease. So I decided to come and do it.”

Brian Beckett, CDL director at Eastern Gateway Community College, is the first to tell you that trucks on the road move America. He’ll also tell you that driving a truck is a rewarding career in need of drivers. 

He wants to get the name of Eastern Gateway out to the public because in six weeks, people can learn a skill for which jobs are available and good money can be made. 

CDL classes began at Eastern Gateway’s Youngstown campus in February 2018. Eastern Gateway developed a partnership with a PI&I Motor Express, a freight shipping and trucking company in Masury, to provide trucks. The Western Reserve Port Authority provides training space at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. 

“The demand is here,” Beckett says. “Companies are calling to recruit students.”

According to the Aligning Opportunities in Northeast Ohio report, statistics from 2018 show motor-vehicle operators are listed among the top five occupations with jobs available in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Employer demand is why Brandon Stough is taking the course. He travels to Youngstown from Akron to earn his CDL. 

“I was tired of living paycheck to paycheck,” Stough says. “I wanted something better for myself.” 

He’s worked construction most of his life after graduating from high school. He says he worked in his family’s business rehabbing houses and installing sprinklers. At the age of 38, he wants a different career, and believes trucking will offer him full-time employment where he can earn money.

Brandon Stough gets guidance from EGCC truck driving instructor Dale Bika.

According to Dale Bika, CDL instructor at EGCC, local companies are recruiting students while they are going through the course.

Maiden is one of the students talking to a local company that called the school for potential employees. She’s hopeful and she has faith in God.

Those two things have taken her this far. “I wanted to quit. I had a praying grandmother. I just hold on to that,” she says. 

And she has held on to life despite the deaths of two of her children.

Her daughter, Aniequa Maiden came home on spring break from Ohio State University Nov. 10, 2004. She fell ill and was diagnosed with leukemia Nov. 12, Lisa Maiden says. Death records show she died Nov. 15, 2004. “We never knew she had leukemia,” Maiden says. 

Tragedy wasn’t finished calling on Maiden. Just 13 months after losing her daughter, Maiden’s oldest son, Terry Briskey Jr., was murdered in Youngstown in December 2005.

She worked at Delphi Packard Electric in the pack-out unit until it closed. 

And after losing her job, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has gone through an aggressive treatment of chemotherapy and was diagnosed in remission last year. 

To honor her daughter, Maiden received a two-year degree in computer tech from Eastern Gateway. “Aniequa was studying computers in college, so I wanted to finish what she had started,” she says. “I didn’t do anything with that degree. It was just to honor her. I wish they would have put her name on that piece of paper.”

Maiden, however, does want to do something with the CDL license she is earning from the community college. She wants to join her son, Chauntczey Robinson, who has been driving a truck for six years.

“I’ve been battling this disease and fell and hurt myself, but there’s nothing that I can’t bear. My doctor released me for this,” she says pointing at one of the trucks. 

Lisa Maiden is training to drive a tractor-trailer to fulfill her dream.

The program offers Class A and Class B licenses. Class A designation is for operating heavy trucks hauling a trailer or having a fifth wheel. Class B licenses are for operating heavy trucks without trailers such as a dump truck, Beckett explains.

The six-week course for a Class A designation costs $5,500 and consists of two weeks or 190 hours of classroom time. The third week involves learning three skill maneuvers and being able to identify 91 items on the truck and explain its function. 

Week four is rural, city and freeway driving, including entering fuel bays and refueling. The fifth week combines driving and skills training. The last week students can work on any weak spots and prepare for testing.

The Class B is a two-week course that costs $2,500. Students spend two days in class and two weeks learning maneuvers and road driving. 

Qualifications for a professional over-the-road truck driver include having a CDL, passing state licensing and Ohio Department of Transportation physical tests and drug screening. Once you receive a CDL, you are certified to drive in any state. The only exception is age. Drivers who are 18 can operate only within Ohio, but you must be 21 years old to drive out of state.

Driving across the country is what Brandon Stough plans to do. “I’m single so it’s easier to be gone for long periods of time.” He has been meeting with a company and hopes to begin after he earns his CDL. 

Both Stough and Maiden will take their tests the day before Thanksgiving. And both want to do OTR – over the road in truck terms. 

Drivers spend weeks on the road, sleeping in motels or at rest stops. Many live in the cabs of their trucks for periods of time, he says. “I’ll plan ahead for rest stops, but I’ll probably live mostly out of my cab. I’m organized and preparation is important.”

Living out the cab of a truck is what many truckers do, according to Beckett. “They’re a lot more advanced and there’s more luxury,” he points out. They have microwaves, TVs, closets and bunks. “It’s like a miniature mobile home.”

With a high demand in the industry, Beckett says, “There’s a lot of money to made on the road if people want to take advantage of that. I’ve had students from here who are willing to work and willing to put time in, come out making $65,000 to $70,000 their first year. Now they put the time in out there for a week or two at a time.”

He explains that some students earn $1,000 to $1,500 a week hauling locally two or three days. The most common scenario Beckett sees is that they want to be able to come home at night to their families. 

Some trends he has seen is that more couples are going out for long hauls as team drivers. “They may have a house they may call home, but their everyday life is out on the road in the truck,” Beckett says. 

All trucking companies pay differently, some by mileage, percentage of the ton being hauled plus mileage and others by the hour. More companies are allowing drivers to bring pets with them or allow drivers to bring along a family member, depending on the insurance. 

Drivers can either work for and drive a company’s truck or become an owner-operator and haul for companies. Buying a truck comes with maintenance and paying for fuel, but truck owner and operators make more money, Beckett says.

Stough plans on driving long hauls and getting as much experience and money as he can so he can buy his own truck. He estimates he will need $100,000.

Maiden says she wants to get as much experience driving as possible, and in the spring, she is moving to Las Vegas. 

She’s not leaving Youngstown for the glitz or the gambling, but the weather. She says her chemotherapy has resulted in painful fibromyalgia and neuropathy. After visiting Vegas, she says the dry heat there made her feel better and she had less pain. 

In 10 years, she wants to be on the road with her son, Chauntczey, driving a truck on the road. Her plans are for them to become owner-operators.

Maiden gets excited when asked if she’s in it for long-haul trucking for weeks at a time.  

“Yep. Now that my kids are grown, I don’t have to stay at home. I can do what I want to do. Finally,” she says. “I just want to live however long I can. I figure I got 20 good years left in me. I’ve been through a lot and I just want to live.”

Pictured above: Brian Beckett, Brandon Stough, Lisa Maiden and Dale Bika head to a truck used for CDL training.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.