New partnership developed to train concrete truck drivers

Published on: June 16, 2008

A combination of industry growth and the aging workforce has created a shortage of skilled concrete truck drivers, a national trend being addressed by Lone Star College-North Harris in partnership with the Texas Aggregate Concrete Association.

Allen Rice, the school’s acting dean of career technology, was approached by TACA, a trade association representing concrete providers across Texas, asking for a program to train truck drivers for the concrete industry.

“We pursued a Texas Workforce Commission skills development grant,” Rice explained, “and were awarded the grant earlier this year. The first class of drivers began training last month.”

Now, the partnership concrete companies will select students to attend three weeks of training and will also provide a truck, fuel, insurance and maintenance for the vehicle. LSC-North Harris has developed the curriculum, provides an instructor and trains each class. At the end of the training, students will earn a Class B Commercial Driver’s License and will be trained in the full operation of a concrete truck.

A total of 65 drivers will be trained under the grant.

“There’s a serious shortage of concrete drivers in our area,” affirmed Jeff Beck, chairman of the board of TACA and president of Frontier Materials–Concrete and Frontier Aggregate. “In our partnership with the college, we have an opportunity to bring new applicants into our industry and equip them to be able to drive ready-mix trucks. The training is specific to the ready-mix industry, both for the CDL and the training in concrete 101. With this training, we can hire new people or develop existing employees to become capable of delivering the product along with additional knowledge of the product.”

Rice said the new program will serve as a pilot study for the concrete industry in Texas. “If we achieve the results we’re targeting–and I think we will–the program and the curriculum will be made available to other community colleges across Texas,” he explained.

The current partnership includes four companies in the north Houston area, including Frontier Materials, TXI Concrete, Southern Star Concrete and Dorsett Bros.

“For students, we’re essentially creating jobs in our area,” Rice said. “The basic pay for entry-level drivers is around $11 to $12 per hour, but drivers can also earn bonuses for the number of loads they can deliver – so they can make a good living.”

Beck said an entry-level driver could make anywhere from $40,000 to $50,000 annually, depending on the hours worked. “These jobs are all local,” he said, “so sometimes the days can get pretty long, but at least these drivers can sleep in their own beds. It’s not like driving over the road.”

During their training, drivers will learn to drive and work around construction projects of all kinds. They’ll also learn to drive concrete trucks on freeways, country roads and off-road.

“All construction projects–streets and roads, houses and commercial buildings–begin with concrete,” Rice pointed out, “but before you get to the construction site, you drive an empty truck under a device that drops in water, Portland cement and sand–and it is then mixed in the truck, en route to the job site.

“The driver then delivers concrete out of a shoot, using his or her knowledge of safety as well as the mechanical operation of the truck and of the controls to mix and pour concrete,” he added.

Candidates for concrete truck driver must pass a drug test and meet the requirements of the Department of Transportation’s physical exam. They also must be able to read, write and speak English well enough to interact with others at the job site. The jobs are open to both male and female candidates.

“We want someone who is skilled in handling heavy trucks,” he said of the program’s targeted outcomes. “Stopping distances are greater and it takes more skills driving a ready-mix truck than a personal vehicle. Our main emphasis is on safety, including safe following distances, maintaining space around unit and knowing how to operate the back end of the concrete truck.

“At our company, we have simulator training, similar to what an airplane pilot goes through,” Beck explained. “We can train our employees in a controlled environment with the looks and feel of driving a big truck down the road. The simulator cab has all the controls of any other truck and uses video screens, one wraparound at the front of the vehicle and a second in the mirrors, simulating driving in different landscapes–from freeway to off-road. The simulator also can simulate various weather conditions and mechanical failures on the vehicle. It’s an X-Box on steroids.”

Beck will offer the new training program, first, to in-house employees who are long-term.  “Then, we’ll recruit new hires, make sure they are going to be good employees and once we determine they’re good candidates for the school, we’ll send them on to the training at LSC-North Harris,” he says.

Because community colleges are uniquely positioned to respond, almost immediately, to specific needs of industry, Rice said the Lone Star College-North Harris department of career technology also partners with companies in the HVAC field, in the area of automotive mechanics and is also part of the Microsoft Academy and the Cisco Regional Academy, among others.

For more information about LSC-North Harris Truck Driving Academy, call 281.765.7751.

Lone Star College-North Harris is located at 2700 W.W. Thorne Drive, one-half mile south of FM 1960 E, between Aldine-Westfield and Hardy Roads. For more information about the college, call 281.618.5400 or visit: NorthHarris.LoneStar.edu.

Lone Star College System consists of five colleges, including CyFair, Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball, six centers and Lone Star College-University Center. It is the largest college system in the Houston area, and third largest community college district in Texas. To learn more, visit LoneStar.edu.

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