Northern Maine Community College range and road instructor Josh Ormsby of Caribou (left) and CDL Academy Coordinator Dennis Dyer of Presque Isle stand by one of the trucks students use in the commercial truck driving course. The college is offering three sessions of the course in Bangor starting May 16. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Because of the growing need for commercial truck drivers in the Bangor area, two community colleges have partnered to bring a successful Aroostook County course south, free of charge.

Together with Eastern Maine Community College, Northern Maine Community College will expand its eight-week driving academy to Bangor with funds from the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, as well as the Harold Alfond Center for the Advancement of Maine’s Workforce.

Northern Maine Community College’s Commercial Driving Academy has been training truck operators for more than 30 years at its Presque Isle campus. But driver shortages across the state worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic have meant employers are scrambling to transport goods.

The course will be free to selected trainees with the goal of increasing the number of qualified, licensed drivers for employers in the Bangor area, said Leah Buck, assistant dean of continuing education at the Presque Isle campus.

The expansion to the EMMC campus is a temporary relocation for a few months, Buck said. Presque Isle instructors will travel to Bangor to deliver three back-to-back, eight-week courses. The first starts Monday, May 16.

Arranging the course in a short time frame was challenging, but they are ready to go, Buck said.

“Good jobs in trucking are easy to find right now. Great pay and benefits are the norm,” she said.

The Commercial Driving Academy began in 1986. Current Commercial Driver License Coordinator Dennis Dyer has been with the program for more than 21 years, and Buck has been involved since 1995.

Maine has a long trucking history within logging, agriculture and other industries, but the past two years have really highlighted the importance of commercial drivers, Dyer said.

 “We’re seeing graduates approached with multiple job offers locally, regionally and nationally,” he said.

More than 1,200 students have completed the course instruction and earned their commercial licenses, Buck said. Many employers contact NMCC looking for program graduates, and some students have several job offers to choose from after completing the training.

The class focuses on Class A commercial driving, which includes tractor trailer trucks 26,000 pounds and over. The curriculum includes double and triple trucks, tankers, air brakes and hazardous materials training, which gives students options to obtain endorsements and broaden the types of vehicles they can drive, Buck said.

“These are hardworking professionals who are rewarded for making smart decisions, whether it is as a long-haul driver, local deliveries, hauling logs or the hundreds of other opportunities that can develop for someone with a great attitude and a willingness to work,” she said.

Dyer is one of a handful of instructors in the state who teaches other commercial driver license instructors via a 48-hour course that offers a classroom teaching credential. The state asked NMCC to offer that training several years ago based on the course’s strong reputation around the state and student successes, Buck said.

The career choices with a commercial license today are many, and the pay professional drivers receive is higher than a few years ago. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports commercial truck drivers in the U.S. earning an average salary of more than $50,000 in 2021, with Maine’s average at $46,000.

But high demand for long-haul truckers, and other specialists, has driven up many salaries to exceed $100,000, according to NMCC officials.

Following the three courses in Bangor, the Commercial Driving Academy will return to Presque Isle in September.

Interested applicants can learn more by visiting nmcc.edu or contacting program coordinator Leah Buck at 207-768-2768 or by sending an email to nlbuck@nmcc.edu.