Any day of the week local residents might spot the huge 48-foot tractor- trailer sporting the jaunty Roadrunner mascot, saying “Get CDL Training! Get Hired!” being maneuvered by a student up and down I-64 or through town, under the watchful eye of one of Mountain Gateway Community College’s CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) instructors.
Over the last three years the CDL program at MGCC has grown exponentially. Since 2019 and through June of 2022, a total of 259 students have been enrolled in the Class A course, which trains students to drive large tractor-trailers, and the Class B course, which trains students to drive buses or box trucks.
“We are a full-service program,” says program head Dorothy Hayslett. “We take students from enrollment to acquiring their learner’s permit, to the behind-the-wheel training they need to pass the road skills test.” Most students can complete the training and be ready to hit the road in as little as three months; some even do it faster. “We’re very flexible,” adds Hayslett. “Our instructors try to work around our students’ schedules.”
“MGCC’s CDL program is a high-quality program that provides individuals the opportunity to earn a CDL credential and get hired in a very high-demand field,” “according to Gary Keener, MGCC vice president of Workforce Solutions & Community Education. “The flexibility of the individual training schedules and the one-on-one training with the instructors makes it possible for more individuals to be able to fit the training into their already busy schedules. The group of instructors in the program are passionate about providing high-quality training and preparing students to be safe and successful drivers.”
The only requirements: Students must be 18 years of age and have an interest in driving a tractor-trailer, she notes. The CDL course falls under the FastForward program, which will pay most of the tuition and other fees for qualified Virginia residents.
The first step is to attend an orientation session, held on a Saturday, and students have 45 days to complete several learning modules, which cover the material needed to pass the knowledge test. Students can sit for the learner’s permit exam in one of the college’s computer classrooms on the MGCC Clifton Forge, Va. campus.
Once they’ve obtained a learner’s permit, preparation for the pretrip inspection test and the behind-the-wheel training begins. “Our ‘classroom’ is very hands-on and primarily outside. Our students get one-on-one instruction, with the student driving and the instructor right beside them,” she says. “Our goal is to move them through each stage successfully.” Students can take advantage of as much as 32 hours of behind-the-wheel training, in addition to the eight hours of instruction for conducting commercial motor vehicle inspections.
They can also take advantage of a CDL simulator, which recreates scenarios such as an accident or a flat tire. “It’s a tool we can use to create a real life situation, and what protocols drivers should follow,” says Hayslett.
When the behind-the-wheel training has been completed and the student is ready, an instructor accompanies the student to a DMV testing site (usually Roanoke, Va., or Lewisburg, W.Va.) to take the skills test, which includes a pretrip inspection, basic vehicle control and on-road driving. MGCC students’ pass rate is very good, says Hayslett.
MGCC’s five instructors, including Hayslett, are B.J. Long, Jonathan Hylton, Bill Khodhair, and Mike Sheppard. Together, they bring more than 120 years of tractor-trailer driving experience to the program.
The instructors have the use of several pieces of equipment for behind-the-wheel training: three semi-tractors, including a 2021 Freightliner Crew Cab Tractor, a 2017 Freightliner Crew Cab Tractor and a 2018 International Day Cab; a single unit truck, a 2021 Freightliner 30’ box truck; and three semi-trailers, including a 2018 48-foot Wabash Dry Van Trailer, a 2017 53-foot Wabash Dry Van Trailer, a 2023 42-foot Pitts Log Trailer, and a 1985 28-foot Fruehauf Dry Van “Pup” Trailer.
According to the most recent statistics, drivers of heavy tractor-trailers are earning an average $21.42 per hour; truckers driving hazardous materials, $16.56; light trucks, $15.62; and industrial truck drivers, $17.97. Depending on the company, truckers can work locally and be home on the weekends, or travel cross country and be on the road for days at a time. There are lots of opportunities for employment, says Hayslett.
“We can’t guarantee job placement, but we have several partners that we work with, and they are always looking for good drivers,” she says. Among those partners are local firms such as Garten Trucking, Lawrence Transportation, Davenport Energy and even VDOT. Several offer apprenticeships for MGCC graduates.
“It’s a short-term program, and at the end of it, you have a nationally recognized credential. It’s a skill you’ll have all your life. And you can always earn a good living,” says Hayslett.
For more information about the CDL program, contact Hayslett at 540-863-2919 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about tuition assistance, contact FastForward Coach Robin Jennings at 540-863-2899 or email@example.com.