ANKENY, Iowa — More trucks than drivers. That may not literally be the case but the nation’s truck driver shortage–worsened during COVID-19 as workers retired, refused to get vaccinated, got sick or just left the industry–gave leaders at Des Moines Area Community College an idea. They are shortening the process to help students earn their commercial driver’s license and get them on the road sooner.

“It’s like being a welder or a nurse right now. If you need a job, you’ll get a job,” DMACC President Rob Denson told WHO 13 News on Tuesday. “It’s a great way to get into a great job very quickly,” he said about the potential that the trucking industry offers.

Denson drove a truck to pay for college as a youth. A half century later, he still drives in parades and events to showcase the university and the trucking industry.

Starting next week, DMACC’s current six-week program will shorten to four. The school will change classroom instruction to online learning. Students can work on that while they also complete their behind-the-wheel instruction. It won’t short-change the amount of learning future truck drivers will receive, DMACC leaders say.

“No, so we are not compromising the quality of the education,” Megan Ellsworth, DMACC’s Director of Industry and Technology, explained. “It is just condensing that education down.” 

The American Trucking Associations estimates that the country came up 80,000 drivers short last year. The industry hopes that a new rule allowing 18- to 20-year-olds to join a trucking apprenticeship program can also help fill some of that shortage.

On Tuesday, Denson also picked up a new rig from Truck Center Companies in Altoona. The company donates one per year to the program. Tyler Pontier, the company’s Continuous Improvement Coordinator, hopes the relationship not only supports DMACC’s educational commitment but also helps students understand that the today’s trucks are easier to driver, more comfortable and safer than those of yesteryear.

“There’s technology on these trucks the same as passenger vehicles with the collision mitigation, the adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning. So if someone’s unsure of driving a big truck like these, they have those added safety benefits for that piece of mind.”