With ARPA funds, Peaslee Tech can meet increased demand for CDL training amid national driver shortage

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Peaslee Tech is pictured Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

The U.S. faced a record-high shortage of more than 80,000 truck drivers last year, according to the American Trucking Associations, and the sole commercial driver’s license instructor in Douglas County, Peaslee Tech, is hoping to help fill in that gap.

The technical school was selected as one of 14 external agencies to receive American Rescue Plan Act funding in July. Peaslee Tech was granted $190,750 to expand its CDL training program, which covers the cost of purchasing two used trucks to bring the training fleet to four vehicles, repaving and expanding the parking lot used for training, and hiring a full-time CDL coordinator.

The result? Peaslee Tech’s capacity for training will skyrocket compared to the 60 individuals it trained for commercial driver’s licenses in 2021.

“We’ll triple our capacity,” Peaslee Tech CEO Kevin Kelley told the Journal-World Wednesday. “We’ll have the potential to do 150, 180 people.”

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Peaslee Tech is pictured Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

One of Peaslee Tech’s two newly-obtained used trucks is pictured in the school’s main parking lot Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. The two trucks, purchased with American Rescue Plan Act funds granted to Peaslee Tech in July, will allow the school to increase its capacity for commercial drivers license training by about three times what it did last year.

It’s a far cry from when Peaslee Tech’s CDL program started nearly five years ago in December 2017 with just one truck. The school trained just 20 to 25 drivers in its first year in something of a slow start, Kelley said, but the numbers quickly ballooned.

“We used to get somebody passing the test, to keep up with our demand, about every five or six days,” Kelley said. “Now, we’re down to every two and a half days. On average, we have twice a week somebody getting their license.”

Kelley said there’s no evidence that demand for new drivers is going anywhere, either. In fact, the American Trucking Associations predicts the driver shortage to surpass 160,000 drivers by 2030. That’s due to a number of factors, Kelley said, including the high average age of current truck drivers and the COVID-19 pandemic.

With that in mind, the funding couldn’t have come at a better time, Kelley said. Plus, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration just passed new entry-level driver training regulations in February. Until then, any company could train employees for CDL certification themselves, but the new rules demand that instructors not only provide driver training but also a safety course, and it has to come from an FMCSA-registered provider. Peaslee Tech happens to be the only instructor in Douglas County that’s registered with the FMCSA.

Kelley said that means employers who want to provide that training either have to do so through Peaslee Tech, which is largely what has happened since February, or otherwise would need to start up driving schools of their own to get certified as instructors. Local employers like Douglas County’s government and the City of Lawrence previously would have provided their own CDL training to employees, but now they’re going through Peaslee Tech.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The parking lot used for CDL training will be repaved and expanded starting Monday.

But the more stringent training is a good thing for the industry, Kelley said.

“Any time you increase the education level in any field, it helps the professionalization of it,” Kelley said.

Andrea Chavez, Peaslee Tech’s executive director of grants and administration, said most of the work to spend the ARPA dollars is already done, or at least it will be within the next week or so. The CDL coordinator is already hired and began working in late September, and the two additional trucks for the training fleet are parked outside Peaslee Tech. Pavement work will begin Monday and finish within a couple days, Chavez said, leaving the new lot ready to use for classes within a week.

One of two remaining steps is getting the newly obtained trucks registered, which Chavez said should be done by the end of October. Welding students at the technical school are working on the other step — installing gates on the east and west sides of the building to block access to the trucks, which should also be complete by the end of the month.

“By the end of October, we’ll have fulfilled the grant,” Kelley said.

Moving forward, Kelley said he could see plenty of room for more additions to the CDL program. Peaslee Tech has already added weekend classes, for example. Down the line, adding lighting to the training parking lot could be a way to expand the school’s training capacity even further.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.