They may end up traveling all over the country, but some University of Montana students are learning it's possible to get the training they need right here at home. 

Even before the pandemic, we were hearing about the shortage of commercial truck drivers, and by last year the American Trucking Association estimated there was a deficit of 80,000 drivers. That's expected to double by 2030 to 160,000. 

That's where the University of Montana comes in, with 55 students completing a course to drive the big rigs over the past 15 months. And it's not a huge time commitment. UM says most students complete the course in 25-to-30 hours. Students have to clear federal paperwork and a drug test and physical before they start. 

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Students Learn to Drive on Two Truck Sizes

Trainers show the students how to drive two different trucks, one with a 10-speed and the other with a full 18-speed gearbox. Head Instructor Andrew Code says drivers also learn how to care for the truck, and themselves, on the open road. 

“We teach them the ins and outs of a trailer, how to add fluids and put on tire chains,” Tode explains. “When you are on the road, you often have to be your own mechanic.”

And the school is seeing more women interested in driving, including those who want to chart their own course as an owner operator. 

Some Student Go into Business for Themselves

Renee Kelly owns a small fleet of heavy machinery and operates her own landscaping business called Rock on Groundworks. She graduated last spring and admits the course was challenging.

Owner-operator Renee Kelly Courtesy; University of Montana
Owner-operator Renee Kelly Courtesy; University of Montana

“Driving a mixer truck with 10 yards of concrete is definitely a learning curve,” Kelly said. “Same with driving a semi with concrete blocks or picking up heavy equipment. You can’t just change lanes; you have to think ahead. I like the challenge.”

If you'd like to try the CDL course you can check in at Missoula College.  

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