Yuma School Offers Truck Driving Training

2013-09-12 18:58:20

After leaving the Army in 2012, veteran Matthew Federico found himself looking for a new career.

Federico went back to school but needed a summer job, so he went to a job fair at the Yuma Civic Center and found his new career.

For the last two months, he’s been attending the Yuma Truck Driving School. Soon he’ll have his Commercial Driver’s License in hand.

Federico said he had never thought about driving a truck before. But then he learned about the benefits available to veterans allowing transitioning military to re-enter the civil workforce.

He went to the school the next day and registered.

It’s a scenario that’s playing over and over in Yuma. Uncle Sam wanted them and they answered the call. But now with military downsizing, some members of the armed forces are looking for new careers.

And in some cases, companies want them because of their traits. They want ex-military because they work hard, are prompt and reliable and have low attrition rates.

A Yuma school is offering veterans and transitioning active duty opportunities to re-enter the civil workforce at reduced or no cost.

Yuma Truck Driving School, which opened in 2010 and is an affiliate of HDS Truck Driving Institute, has one of the best records in the country in terms of reintroducing veterans into the workforce.

Federico jokes that a typical day will find active duty and/or ex Army, Marines and National Guard in the same classroom, all getting along.

Qualified active-duty, veterans and family members can attend the Yuma school using tuition assistance through at least five programs for veterans and transitioning military (see accompanying box).

“For active duty, they have the security of getting a paycheck while they use their benefits. They cover all costs with zero out-of-pocket expenses. They are paid to go to school,” noted Joseph Ziemer, the school’s regional director of admissions.

In 2011, President Obama signed the Vow to Hire Heroes Act, providing tax credits to help put veterans back to work. Businesses are given tax credits of up to $5,600 for each veteran they hire who has been looking for a job for more than six months. A tax credit of $2,400 is awarded for hiring veterans who have been unemployed for more than four weeks.

The Wounded Warrior Tax Credit provides up to $9,600 for companies that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months.

Ziemer points out that ex-military are a “good fit” for the industry. “What is the military but a big transportation outfit? They transport water, fuel, ammo, cargo.”

Why do some companies actively seek out ex-military? “They’re on time, clean cut, physically fit, drug-free. They have a lot of leadership traits taught in the military,” Ziemer said.

One of these companies is the Houston-based Integrated Production Services, which does a lot of oil field work. It has a Marine Corps Training Program and a $65,000 base pay.

“Marines used to go overseas and work security. Now they can do something in the U.S. without being shot at,” Ziemer said.

Open seven days a week, 12 hours a day, the school offers a flexible schedule and an opportunity to learn at a student’s own pace.

Active-duty students can plan so “they will have their license by the time they get out,” Ziemer noted.

“It’s fairly simple as long as you apply yourself. The instructors are easy to understand and pretty friendly,” Federico added.

Not just for military

The school also trains civilians, and with lifetime job placement, they’re guaranteed a job at the end of the course.

“A person can just walk off the street not knowing anything, and we’ll get them licensed and offers of employment,” Ziemer said.

With such a high demand for truck drivers, students “can graduate on Friday and start their job on Monday,” he added.

The average starting pay for a truck driver is $38,000 to $40,000-plus.

Giving it a shot is Derek Ruhl, who wants “to travel the country and get paid while doing it.” He has had a CDL for eight years and worked as a bus driver, but now he wants to learn to handle a semi-trailer. Because Ruhl’s already licensed, his course is shorter.

The school also works with the Yuma Private Industry Council (YPIC) and PPEP Inc. in training people for new careers.

“YPIC has been a phenomenal program and we have had tremendous success,” Ziemer said.

The PPEP Farmworker JOBS Program is an employment and training program for seasonal and migrant farm workers in Arizona who can no longer work in the fields, on a ranch or in a plant processing fruits and vegetables.

There are also programs for state or federal workers who need new careers, such as injured postal workers and Border Patrol agents.

The school is more affordable than a four-year college, according to Ziemer. “It’s four weeks to work, not four years, and no student loans.”

The 160-hour course for a Class A license costs $3,500. For the course that covers all endorsements, the cost is $4,500, half of the usual tuition of comparable truck driving schools, Ziemer said.

And there are tax breaks for some citizens.

Classes start weekly and usually take four to eight weeks if the student can attend full time. Students need not be fluent in English.

“What makes us different is we’re an A-to-Z. We’ll walk them through everything,” Ziemer said.

The school guides students through all the steps needed to obtain permits and take tests, even mimicking the state CDL test.

“We actually care that our students know how to drive,” said instructor Toby Norman, who has been a licensed commercial driver for 21 years and a teacher for eight years, 2 ½ at this school.

“We don’t kick them out if they run out of hours. We let them stay longer and get more training if necessary.”

And student drivers will only use county roads in marked trucks until they’re proficient enough to drive in town, he added.

Nevertheless, he asks motorists to be patient with student drivers.

“Remember, if you’ve got it, a truck brought it. And he or she had to learn how to drive somewhere,” Norman said.

For more information, look for the school at the Oct. 2 job fair at the Civic Center, visit or call 1-888-647-3239. Or stop by the school office at 4115 E. 32nd St.