Aug. 27–Getting a job driving a truck just got a little easier for military veterans who live in Illinois.
Veterans don’t have to take the written test to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License, as long as they operated a large truck in the military in the previous year, according to new rules put in place this month.
And that’s on top of veterans with such experience not having had to take the driving portion of the test since 2014.
“We should do our part to help these heroes find jobs suitable to their skills and experiences,” Secretary of State Jesse White said in an Aug. 21 news release.
Ron Leek, owner of Rockford-based R.L. Leek Industries Inc., which employs 80 drivers, said his company welcomes veterans, and he hopes the written test waiver adds to the number available for hire in a trucking industry starved for drivers.
“We are attempting to hire anyone” who is qualified to drive a truck, he said. “There’s been a shortage for several years.”
Leek said the over-the-road drivers he employs can earn $70,000 a year, but “it’s a very difficult occupation.” Long-haul drivers can be away from home for days or weeks at a time. Traffic can be heavy, and drivers have to react quickly to potentially dangerous situations on the road.
There just aren’t enough newcomers to replace aging drivers fast enough. The American Trucking Associations expects a shortage of 175,000 drivers by the end of 2024.
In November, truckernews.com, citing census data, reported that there are nearly 22 million U.S. veterans. About 9 million are part of the U.S. workforce, and about 11 percent of them work in trucking and affiliated industries.
Page Siplon said the company where he is CEO is “looking to hire veterans.” Team One Logistics, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, employs 800 drivers, operates in 44 states and advertises in Rockford for drivers.
“It’s not because of the (veteran) label, but because of what they bring to the table — their work ethic, dedication, commitment and discipline,” he said. “They are good for business.”
He said waiving the written truck driving test in Illinois could be helpful for veterans and the industry. “Every little bit helps, but it’s a small portion of the overall problem,” Siplon said.
Mark Sandoval, truck driver training program coordinator at Rock Valley College, said there’s typically a veteran enrolled in each of the six-week CDL classes he coordinates throughout the year. Each class has five to eight students. Most get some or all of their tuition paid for through the Illinois Veteran Grant program or the GI Bill, he said.
Kelvin Hoss, 24, of Rockford, passed his CDL driving test on Thursday after completing the class at RVC. He had passed the written test early in the class in order to get a driving permit.
Hoss was in the National Guard and served in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. He said he was a crew chief who “shot a machine gun off the side” of helicopters and repaired them but didn’t drive heavy trucks.
He said he’s not sure it’s a good idea for Illinois to waive the CDL tests for recently returned veterans. Tests can refresh memories and reinforce safety on the road, he said.
Even so, he said, veterans are a good fit for the trucking industry. “We’re able to make decisions on the fly, able to deal with potentially dangerous situations without being scared.”
Georgette Braun: 815-987-1331; firstname.lastname@example.org; @GeorgetteBraun
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