The high demand for truck drivers nationwide has led a Jackson County trucking company to start its own truck driver’s school.
Boknecht Trucking Co. employees Jeff Lane and Karen Browning are leading Indiana CDL Training Center in hopes of increasing the number of professionally trained and certified truck drivers out on the roads.
The school offers a comprehensive six-week course that provides students with 200 hours of training, including classroom work and range and road driving experience. The curriculum comes from the Professional Truck Driver Institute and includes all of the basic skills needed to pass the state commercial driver’s license test.
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“When they finish, not only will they know the ins and outs of the trucking industry as well as how to operate the truck, but also how to drive safely,” said Browning, who is serving as the school’s lead instructor.
Education is the first step, but Indiana CDL Training Center goes a step further by assisting students with job placement after they graduate.
“Someone in six weeks can absolutely turn their life around because you can go from working (fast food) making maybe $8 an hour if you’re lucky to earning your CDL and immediately going into the trucking industry and doubling that,” Browning said.
Whether you become a long-distance driver or stay local will determine how much money you make, she said.
“But you can make a ridiculous amount of money in a short amount of time in trucking,” she said.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize that,” added Matt Boknecht, owner of Boknecht Trucking Co. on State Road 258 near Cortland. “Even if you stay local, you can make good money.”
As a child, Boknecht thought everyone had semi trucks and trailers in their backyard.
His father, Dennis Boknecht, started Boknecht Trucking Co. 47 years ago, and Matt took over the business 10 to 12 years ago, he said.
“It’s all I’ve known,” he said.
Truck driving also is a good career for women to get into because only 4 to 6 percent of drivers are female, Browning said.
“The trucking industry has a wide-open canvas for women,” she said. “It’s an awesome opportunity for a woman given that she is a strong, independent person.”
Starting the school puts Boknecht Trucking first in line to hire quality, trained drivers, Boknecht said.
“Originally, my thought was just to have a testing site here,” Boknecht said. “It’s just kind of grown from there. Karen had some ideas, and Jeff did, too, and we just decided to pursue it.”
With new rules and regulations being applied to the industry every year, Boknecht said it’s only going to make it harder for truck drivers, and that’s why opening a truck driving school is a good idea.
There are currently 13 licensed truck driver schools in Indiana, most of which provide shorter programs than Indiana CDL Training Center.
“Most of the schools are three to four weeks long,” Lane said.
Having a longer program means a better prepared driver, Boknecht added.
“Honestly, I don’t know if you can truly teach someone to really drive a truck in six weeks, but I know you can’t teach somebody to drive a truck in three weeks,” he said. “We want people to realize it’s not just a job. Truck driving can be a good career.”
Both Lane and Browning have truck driving experience but also have a background in education. Lane spent 37 years as an instructor with the Indiana State Police, and Browning worked as a schoolteacher.
“We not only know how to drive, but we also know how to instruct people,” Browning said. “We’re really geared toward making truck drivers not just cookie cutter, but we’re really out to help them understand what truck driving involves.”
Browning got her start in trucking 16 years ago thanks to her ex-husband.
“My former husband couldn’t keep a job and thought this would be a good way, so we went to school in Kentucky and drove as a team,” she said. “Turns out, I was a better driver.”
Besides being a truck owner/operator, she also has worked as a truck dispatcher.
“I’ve been on both sides of the transportation industry,” she said.
Lane said his decision to become a truck driver stemmed from his retirement from law enforcement. He had taught emergency vehicle driving at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy for more than 20 years.
“It’s a new adventure,” he said of starting the truck driving school. “I always like to have a challenge.”
Indiana CDL Training Center classes are being offered at the Jackson County Learning Center in Seymour with field training at an off-site location. The driving range eventually will be located on Commerce Drive near the Best Way Disposal solid waste transfer station.
The cost is $5,995 for the six-week class. Students must have their CDL learner’s permit before enrolling. There is a grant opportunity available through Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Next Level Jobs initiative that could help pay for the Indiana CDL Training Center class, Browning said. WorkOne also has financial assistance available for qualified students.
If a company already has a driver with a Class B CDL and wants to upgrade that license, Indiana CDL Training Center is offering a one-week class for $1,900.
“We’re ready to start and currently are looking for students,” said Lane, who is serving as director/coordinator of the training center.
The program is open to those 18 and over even though a student must be 21 to drive out of state.
After a year of operation, the training center can be certified by the Professional Truck Driver Institute, becoming the first truck driving program in Indiana to do so, Lane said.
By 2020, anyone wanting to drive a truck will have to go to school for at least five weeks before taking the state skills test, he added.
“Our goal is we want the best truck driving school in the state of Indiana,” Boknecht said.
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For information or to enroll in Indiana CDL Training Center, call 812-497-3100 or visit indianacdltc.com.