High School Takes on Commercial Truck Driver Shortage

With commercial truck driver shortage looming, a high school in Patterson, California takes a proactive approach by creating a truck driving school program dedicated to bringing new drivers into the industry.


With commercial truck driver shortage looming, a high school in Patterson, California takes a proactive approach by creating a truck driving school program dedicated to bringing new drivers into the industry.

The area surrounding Patterson High School has become a mecca for distribution centers over the last several years and has brought in companies like Amazon, Grainger, Kohls, CVS and Restoration Hardware.  Superintendent Philip Alfano saw an opportunity and created a Supply Chain and Logistics Management program at the city’s high school that trains students for entry level positions at these facilities.

Two years ago Alfano was approached by fourth grade teacher Dave Dein with the idea of starting a truck driving program within the high school. Soon after he pitched the idea, the process of implementing the program began and Patterson High School had one of the first truck driving programs in the nation.

Dein has been serving as an elementary school teacher for the last 17 years, however, he is no stranger to trucking. He began his career in the trucking industry in 1988 as a way to financially support himself through college and was hired by large manufacturing company as a driver/manager post-graduation. After having a successful career as a driver and logging over 700,000 accident and ticket free miles, Dein moved into the education field.  Trucking never left him, though. During summers Dein would train individuals recently released from prison on how to drive a truck and provided job placement assistance.

After receiving the green light from Alfano the first step was to enlist the expertise of district Career Technical Education director, Jeff Rowe, who was able to use his vast experience to leverage funding for the program. The next step in creating the high school program was to bring in industry partners and create an advisory board to assist in the planning and guidance of the newly formed entity. Morning Star Trucking, Penske Logistics, Foster Farms and Northern Refrigerated have played a critical and vital role into the success of the program.

It was decided to have the program based on the highest industry level standards as set by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) as well as the FMCSA Entry Level Driver Training Standards that go into effect in 2020.  Students receive 180 hours of instruction time with 80 hours devoted to classroom instruction and 100 hours for lab activities.  Here the students obtain hands on experience on a truck and two trailers donated by Faith Logistics to practice pre-trip inspections, air brake tests and coupling/uncoupling.  Students also use this time for practicing hours of service (log books) and trip planning. 


In addition, students also receive 20 hours of behind-the-wheel training on two Advanced Training Systems truck simulators where they learn how to shift a 10-speed transmission that includes fuel management shifting techniques, maneuvering the truck through varied simulations and backing. The ATS lessons are self-paced and the simulator provides immediate feedback and remediation, allowing Dein to work with more than one student at a time.  The mini-lessons are goal driven and focus on a specific learning objective allowing students to practice and retain information much more effectively.   

The truck driving program has also partnered with Worklete a training program designed to reduce workplace injuries. Worklete created a custom program for Patterson High School that has students learn a new lesson each week and then allows students to practice that movement throughout the week to create muscle memory.  At the end of the program, trainers will visit Patterson High School to certify that students are qualified in all industry specific movements.

Upon the completion of the Patterson High School truck driving program, students will be given an option as to how they want to proceed in obtaining their behind-the-wheel training. Students can choose to obtain free behind-the-wheel training with one of their industry partners, Morning Star Trucking, or enroll in the Patterson Joint Unified School District Adult Education Program where the district has contracted the behind-the wheel training with a local truck driving school.  As Morning Star Trucking trains with automatic transmission trucks students will have a restricted license, but they will be guaranteed seasonal employment transporting tomatoes during the summer earning up to $12,000 in three months. Other industry partners have also pledged support to hire program graduates focusing on mentoring and guidance to ensure their long term success in the industry. 

The American Trucking Association's study in 2015 highlighted the driver shortage, now estimated to be 50,000 and possibly ballooning to 174,000 by the year 2026. There are over 26,000 public high schools across the United States and if programs like the one at Patterson High School were created at a county wide level, students could have more job opportunities. It would only take 10 students from each high school to have a significant and dramatic impact on the driver shortage.

Dein’s vision of this program is more than just providing skills and knowledge for students to earn their CDL. To him it is about providing students with a comprehensive look into an industry that is currently exploring new future technologies, such as hydrogen and electric powertrains and autonomous trucks designed to make trucking safer and more efficient. The legacy of the Patterson High School truck driving program is directly related to the success and accomplishments of those who continue to be an integral and active participant in the future of the transportation industry.