CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-- Mark Shepherd has needed no nudging to shift gears into a trucking career.
"Job security," he says. "I just came off a two-year-layoff from Alcoa."
After seven weeks of commercial driver training at Chattanooga State, he already has a job.
"They came in and recruited us," Shepherd says.
Chatt State has about 15 people enrolled in its daytime class; about ten at night, according to coordinator Don Hunt, of the Tennessee Technology Center Division.
"Six are married couples," Hunt says. "Life on the road isn't for everyone. But you're looking at $40,000 a year. Two paychecks? That's $80,000 thousand dollars, that's quit a bit of money!"
But such jobs go begging.
"Today, there's around a 150,000 driver shortage throughout the United States", says Max Fuller, co-chairman of Chattanooga-based freight hauler U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Inc. "If we get 3 percent growth in GDP, it goes to 400,000 real fast!"
That's partly why U.S. Xpress has hosted a regional conference for the National Association of Publicly-Funded Truck Driving Schools (NAPFTDS).
Trucking also is the engine that drives much of the Tennessee Valley's Economic Development, maintains former Hamilton County Mayor, now Tennessee Deputy Governor Claude Ramsey.
Besides U.S. Xpress, Hamilton County also is home to the corporate headquarters of competitor, Covenant Transport.
"Max (Fuller) has been a major partner in helping us lure jobs," Ramsey says. "We've got great logistics and access in and out of the highway systems."
"They (U.S. Xpress, Covenant, and other competitors) can bring it either way," Ramsey says. "It's a plus."
Ramsey tells the NAPFTDS that lawmakers are get value of training for trades.
But Irvin Skinner, of Meridian Community College in Mississippi, believes too few are putting their money behind their mouths.
"The problem we have is not getting students,"Skinner says. "It's getting funding for the students in our program."
Commercial driver training and certification can cost $1-12,000, depending upon the school and the state.
Lottery scholarships help in Tennessee, Ramsey says.
But not always.
"I paid for it (Chatt State's $1077 tuition) all on my own," Shepherd says. "Me and my wife scrimped for weeks working part-time."
But the payback will begin quickly. Shepherd's new job covers a 500-mile radius; enough distance to make money, but close enough that he'll get to spend alternate weekends at home.
"Don't hesitate," he says. "If you've got a clean driving record, this is where you need to be."