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Local Academy Bridges Driving Gaps

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Portrait of a middle aged bearded truck driver standing by the truck and showing his commercial driver's license. Focus on CDL license. Truck driving school and job openings. | Image by Aleksandar Malivuk, Shutterstock

A local driving school is planning on becoming a pipeline for helping to fill much-needed truck driving and other positions.

The “South Dallas Driving Academy” aims to help those who cannot afford driving lessons because of limited income get their license and potentially get a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in the future. The initiative comes from local non-profit BridgeBuilders, which “restores relationships under the banner of Christ by engaging, equipping, and empowering individuals, families, and communities in South Dallas.”

Von Minor, vice president of development and strategic initiatives for BridgeBuilders, told The Dallas Express that he wants to help people in his old neighborhood of South Dallas get licenses because of the practical necessity of having one.

“You have a whole generation of young people who will go without a driver’s license, and that pre-emptive driving school is to save them from potential fines and tickets, warrants, those things that come when you’re driving without a license,” Minor said.

But Minor said that this is just the beginning and that they are soon launching a second phase of the project where they will train 18 to 32-year-olds interested in the trucking industry to obtain CDLs by partnering with Dallas College and trucking companies, such as the American Trucking Association.

“It makes it a lot easier whenever you’re dealing with 18 to 32-year-olds because you don’t have the rigors of the classroom requirement and hours in car driving hours –which is 30– and then the six-month gap in between receiving your permit and then being allowed to take your test,” Minor said. “You have to wait six months before you’re eligible to go and take your job or the test.”

Minor said many driving schools are inaccessible to people who live in South Dallas as well as being out of reach financially for many.

“What we have found being in our particular community for over 20 years is you have people that don’t have a Class-C driver’s license because, again, the affordability and accessibility (with) the basic driver’s education was taken out of public schools,” Minor said. “That was a free service to people who are living in poverty. It costs $450 to go to a driving school. If you’re a single parent, you’re living on government subsidy, you’re not ponying up that level of resource to have one of your kids go to driving school. It’s just not affordable.”

He said the first step in creating a pipeline to CDL job opportunities is to provide locals with a Class-C license.

“We’re sitting on that precipice of now being able to provide the opportunity, meaning that of providing that Class-C driver’s license to CDL. So that CDL track is the most obvious track because you can’t operate not only an 18 Wheeler, but you also can’t operate a forklift. And so there’s (sic) so many opportunities,” Minor said.

He said one of their partners is Pepsi Co., which needs to fill jobs in all areas.

“They don’t need just drivers,” Minor said. “They need people on the dock. They need people in administration. So now, it opens up the floodgates for potential living wage opportunities for those people, those demographics, our neighbors that otherwise wouldn’t receive those opportunities.”

Minor hopes to expand this program in five years to become a part of every urban center in the United States.

Rally Fleet is one of the trucking organizations partnered with BridgeBuilders and the South Dallas Driving Academy.

Chris Petersen, vice president of business development for Rally Fleet, told The Dallas Express that trucking organizations are in desperate need of workers and that an opportunity like this is great both for the trucking organizations and the people who are training.

“Every one of these positions is begging for people to work for them,” Petersen said. “There are tons of good opportunities within that space.”

Petersen explained that those positions include truck drivers, dockworkers, and forklift operators.

The South Dallas Driving Academy refers people to CDL driving schools at Dallas College and Texas KLLM.

“They have a really good program where you show up every Monday and they start a new class,” Petersen said of KLLM. “They are there for 22 days straight, and when they come out, they have a CDL.”

Petersen said the only thing that is required from them is registration fees which the South Dallas Driving Academy pays for.

He said he has been working with BridgeBuilders for a long time –more than 20 years– and has volunteered with people facing addiction and homeless issues in the community, even taking in two young people, one of whom eventually joined the navy, while the other became a truck driver.

After all of that, I came to find out hardly anybody in the community had a driver’s license. How was that?” Petersen said. “There’s no driving academy that’s accessible and affordable to the community.”

But he said he thinks getting people licenses is helpful for both the individuals and the trucking industry.

“They are all talking about a driver shortage all the time. In the 20 years I’ve been in the industry, that’s all they talk about,” said Petersen, who had a message for those without driver’s licenses: “Get mobile so you can get mobilized to the workforce,” he said.

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