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Professional driver training through Lake Land College offers viable career option for men, women alike

April 4, 2014
 
When Linda Andrews was growing up, she aspired to be an auto mechanic, much to the dismay of her parents. 
 
“My folks didn’t really think a garage was a place for a woman to work,” explained Andrews of Jewett. “They wanted me to be a teacher instead. But, I really had no interest in that. So what did I do? I went ahead and joined the military, which was an interesting turn of events for me and them.”
 
After serving in the Air Force, Andrews went on to complete an associate degree at Lake Land College, and worked a variety of jobs to help support her family over the years. 
 
“I think I joined the service because it was a way for me to avoid following a path that had been chosen for me,” said Andrews. “But now that’s not the only option for women. Now there are options that make it acceptable for girls to get out of those typical roles, if they so choose.”
 
Most recently, Andrews completed a career as a bank teller, but decided that at age 53, there were a lot of good working years still ahead of her. That’s when she turned to the Lake Land College Commercial Driver Training Program.  
 
“My husband has been on the road for years. Our children are grown and I want to get back to work. So we thought, why not team up. This will give us a chance to spend some time together while making good money,” said Andrews. “I’m ready to put my jeans and boots on and get to work!”
 
The Lake Land College Commercial Driver Training Program is a four-week program that focuses on the safe and proper handling of semi-tractor trailers. Students train in a variety of traffic environments, gaining experience in common driving challenges, under real-world driving conditions. 
 
Students spend 40 hours in a classroom setting covering Department of Transportation regulations, trip planning, hours of service and extreme road conditions, to name a few. The remainder of the program is taught behind the wheel of the semi, where students learn about pre-trip inspection, backing, clutch control and shifting, urban and defensive driving, and all other aspects of driving a truck. 
 
Upon completion of the program, students test for the Secretary of State Class A drivers license and graduates are awarded a Lake Land College certificate, accredited by the Illinois Community College Board. 
 
For Heather Sexson, Oakland, earning her commercial driver’s license means finding a secure job with benefits, not to mention traveling and seeing the country. 
 
“What appealed to me about this line of work is that with just four weeks of education, I can land a job that pays on average $35-40,000 the first year on the road,” said Sexson. “There aren’t really any other industries where that’s a possibility. And of course, there is a certain amount of freedom I’m looking forward to while being on the road.”
 
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow 11 percent over the next decade. As the economy grows, the demand for goods will increase and more truck drivers will be needed to keep supply chains moving.
 
Sexson said that while professional driving has historically been a male dominated profession, she is ready to assume the role of a professional driver. 
 
“The truth of the matter is that this industry is no different for women than any other line of work. We’ve all worked in a man’s world and we always have to prove ourselves a little more and work a little harder,” she said. “I’m sure there will be hurdles, but I’ll overcome them and get the job done just like I always have.” 
 
In fact, Sexson and her classmates Andrews and Veronica Depew of Cowden, say there are advantages to being a woman and learning to be a professional truck driver. 
 
“I learned to drive a stick on this truck right here,” said Depew. “A lot of the men in this class have been driving or working in a similar field for a long time, so they’ve had to unlearn some bad habits. It’s been easier in a lot of ways for me to learn to drive the truck, because I’m learning to drive it right the first time.”
 
According to Depew, she was admittedly nervous about getting behind the wheel of the semi at first, but said that with the help of the instructors - Paul Hanley, John Mannen, Robert Bryant and Mark Crean - she’s mastering all aspects of driving the truck.  
 
“Our teachers definitely got our backs,” said Depew. “They are very patient and really care about our success. There have been a couple of times where I needed a little extra instruction and the teachers don’t mind staying late, or putting in one-on-one time if they see I might need extra guidance or practice.” 
 
According to Program Director Gary Finch, more than 1,000 students have completed the program through Lake Land since 2000.
“Almost 100 percent of our students find a job upon completion of the program,” said Finch. “We work closely with regional and national carriers who are very interested in hiring Lake Land College graduates.”   
 
Finch said that for women interested in entering the world of professional driving, there is no better time than now. 
 
“The industry is changing and making life on the road more accessible for women,” said Finch. “It’s not just a man’s game anymore and really, regardless of gender, being a professional driver is a stable, solid career.” 
 
Lake Land offers professional driver training in both Mattoon and Marshall. According to Finch, the new program in Marshall is a great option for residents of Indiana, especially those who live in or around the Terre Haute area, which is roughly 15 miles from the Marshall location. Indiana students pay the same tuition rate as those students from Illinois, but can test for licensure in Indiana.  
 
For further information or to enroll, contact Finch at (217) 238-8239 or email him at gfinch@lakeland.cc.il.us. 
 
 
Cutline: Pictured here are Commercial Driver Training Program students at Lake Land College. From left are: Heather Sexson, Oakland; Linda Andrews, Jewett; and Veronica Depew, Cowden.


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Jennifer Forneris
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Megan Nelson
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Jenny Osborn
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