There are only so many miles of road you can drive around Juneau, yet there seems to be an ever-increasing demand for commercially certified drivers.
The Vocational Training & Resource Center is now better able to meet employers' demands for adequate drivers with the recent initial certification by the Professional Truck Driver Institute of a Class A commercial drivers license truck-driver training course.
"To become a nationally recognized trucking school means a lot to us, especially in Southeast where there are no other training schools," said Archie Cavanaugh, director and higher education manager of the VTRC.
"We got certified mainly because we wanted to become more credible and authenticated in our curriculum, and also to be certified nationally as well as regionally on passing those skills on to our students," he said.
Cavanaugh said obtaining the PTDI certification was a grueling process that took about a year and a half. VTRC has offered a tutorial-based truck-driver program since 2002, but the PTDI certification provides more comprehensive work requirements and better opportunities for the students, he said.
"One of the requirements of PTDI is we have to find our students jobs," said Cavanaugh. "That's the carrot that we pursue in everything we do here."
The six-week course costs $5,500 and requires students to fulfill 75 hours of classroom time, 44 hours of behind-the-wheel time and 29 hours of independent study. Students also spend time learning on a driving simulator. The course tuition includes the fees for a drug test, insurance, initial drivers permit, and the Class A CDL fee.
Course instructor John Lewis said the CDL requirements are different than they were in years past, when truck drivers needed only the same license as any other driver.
"A lot of those guys out there are grandfathered in from those days and most of those guys are getting older. And now there's a tremendous need coming up," he said.
Lewis said the state needs more drivers with CDL certification because of the many proposed construction projects on the horizon. He gave examples of the Kensington Mine, the road out of Juneau, and the proposed natural gas line in the Interior.
"The work force is getting older and now you just can't jump in a truck and go, now you have to have a special license," he said.
Lifelong Juneau resident Rick Paulo, 47, is in the fourth week of classes and has been learning how to drive a tractor-trailer around the Juneau area. On Tuesday, Paulo was driving the VTRC's truck on the road to Eaglecrest to learn to use gears and keep in control of the vehicle on hills.
Paulo said he enrolled in the course to increase his job prospects.
"It's very important for me, for what I want to get into," he said. "I want to try and get a mining job over in Kensington ... to raise my job pay,"
Paulo said this course has increased his job skills and should help him get a better job.
"It'll be my foot in the door to get started on it anyway," he said.
Lewis, also a longtime Juneau resident, said he is using his connections with local employers to have students ride along with trucking, oil, cement and gravel companies.
"They let these guys ride around with them so they get to go see what they'll be doing in the real world," he said.
VTRC also offers a CDL refresher course and a Class B CDL course, which requires students to fulfill 48 hours of course work over eight days. A state of Alaska authorized postsecondary institution operated by the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, VTRC focuses training Alaska Natives but has an open admissions policy for students of all races.
Students who want to earn their CDL have to have a certain level of dedication, said Lewis.
"They have to want to do it. I get parents who come in here because they want to get their kid out from behind the Xbox or the TV and the motivation has to come from the student," he said. "They have to want to drive a truck."
Cavanaugh said the new course is a tremendous benefit to the community because it helps produce a skilled work force.
"Not only is it going to produce drivers, it's going to produce skilled drivers," he said.