Fresno Program Steers Eager Workers to Good Paying Trucker Jobs

Corina Hernandez is going trucking to build a better life for herself and her 15-year-old son. “I hope that I will be able to buy a home for me and my son,” she said. Hernandez is one of 24 students at the John Lawson Trucking School, newly reopened in a JD Food facility near Fresno. Funded by federal dollars through the Fresno Economic Development Corporation, the school held a ribbon cutting Thursday.

Lee Ann Eager with Fresno EDC says the school wants to double the number of students with funds from the Good Jobs Challenge grant, part of its Welfare to Work program. Fresno EDC pays the training costs, estimated at $3,000 per student. “We’re hoping, with our new grant, to be able to double that and hire new teachers, new trainers, and really be able to do maybe 50 students in a cohort get some more trucks,” Eager said.

For Hernandez, she left the medical field as a certified nursing assistant for better pay. “I realized that that wasn’t for me. And I have family and friends that work in the trucking industry, and they kind of told me some of the benefits. And it is a growing industry for female truckers,” Hernandez, 32 of Fresno, said. She is halfway through the 12-week truck driving course. The Fresno County Department of Social Services helped steer her in the direction of the school. “Women can do it just as much as men. And it’s a great job opportunity,” she said.

JD Food: We Need a Lot of Truck Drivers

More truckers could not come at a better time. Mark Ford, president of JD Food, wants to hire more truckers to deliver food and industrial supplies throughout California. “It’s a lot of miles covered,” Ford said. “We need a lot of truck drivers. We send trucks into L.A. every day. We send trucks into the Bay Area every day, too.” JD Food employs 32 drivers, but Ford wants to expand. He says there are 80,000 openings nationwide. “We’re always looking for truck drivers. Our fleet is growing. Our drivers are always growing. And it’s just a great career, too,” Ford said.

Ford says a shortage due to the pandemic is easing. Their best recruitment tool is word of mouth — employees can earn bonuses for referrals. A driver could earn $60,000 a year. JD Food bought its facility on Central Avenue at Minnewawa in 2021 to accommodate expansion. But it was too much space. “I saw the need (for more truckers). I reached out to (Fresno EDC) and said, we have a pretty nice office that we’re not using at all. Would that be something that you’d be able to use? And so, they looked at it. They thought it was great,” Ford said.

Electric Trucks Coming, But When?

Students practice driving skills on two diesel trucks. Eager says the next truck the school purchases will be either electric or hydrogen powered. “We expect to have everything, the electric or hydrogen by 2035. So obviously we need to be planning for that. And there are incentives for trucking companies to look at electric trucks,” Eager said. Eager is also chairwoman of the California Transportation Commission. “We know what (switching to electric) means for all of us. So as the transportation commission, we are looking at what are those ways that we can ensure that the people of the Central Valley can breathe good air. And I’m certainly supportive of how we get to that place. And getting people into zero-emission vehicles is a priority,” Eager said.

She says if ZEV are manufactured in California, that could reduce costs. Ford is hesitant to add non-diesel trucks to his fleet. “We’re pausing and waiting right now. The technology is not there to meet our needs because we go such a distance and the distance that we travel would not accommodate the needs of the electric power vehicles,” Ford said. “As the technology develops, we’re definitely going to be a part of that.”

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