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Immigrants fill truck driver shortage gap in Colorado

Saturday May 18, 2019
By Hendrik Sybrandy

A current truck driver shortage in the U.S. is projected to become only more acute in the years ahead. But now, immigrants from among other places, including Africa, are helping fill the need. CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

Whether it’s baby boomers retiring, people leaving the industry, willingly or not, or industry growth, truck drivers are at a premium right now in the U.S.

“There’s a major shortage in North America for drivers,” said Mike Euglow, CEO of Commercial Vehicle Training Center.

Euglow points to studies showing an estimated 80-thousand driver shortfall today, a number that’s projected to only go up.

“There’s just a lot of open seats right now in the trucking world,” he added.

Euglow’s facility in Watkins, Colorado is maneuvering to help fill those seats. What makes this school unique: East African immigrants make up a large percentage of the students.

“You know a truck is a big car. It’s difficult to drive for the first time,” said Yibrah Berhe, a trucker trainee.

Young men from countries like Eritrea and Somalia shell out $3400 for a four-week combination online and hands-on course that, if all goes well, will pave the way to a commercial driver’s license.

“These people are good people that are coming to the United States and wanting to change their lives.”

The opportunity to earn a salary puts many of them behind the wheel.

“By doing this, I can make good money and then I can support my family,” said driving instructor Belay Nega.

 The solitary nature of truck driving, with fewer language and cultural barriers, makes it a good fit. The school’s instructors, who preach safety constantly, help make the immigrants comfortable here.

“Most of the people, they have English problem. So when they get a person that can speak their mother language things will be easy for them.” said instructor Measho Gebrezgabhier.

“That’s how we built our business is being able to cater to these folks,” added Euglow, “Their diligence, everywhere from getting to the United States or filling out their asylum paperwork or what have you just to get here…there’s really a sense of urgency for them. And to be good at it.”

With about two-thirds of America’s freight moving along the nation’s highways, the push is on to keep this part of the economy rolling. The trucking industry has increased driver pay, tried decreasing the amount of time drivers spend on the road and is considering lowering the minimum age of drivers to 18. It’s 21 right now. Immigrants are also part of the hiring formula.

I believe they will put a sizable dent in the shortage,” said Euglow.

Provided, of course, they can learn things like correctly backing up their tractor-trailers. Not a skill they ever imagined themselves using. But an absolute must now.


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