Courtesy Steve Yingling, Western Nevada College
Burned out from working in retail, Sarah Whelpley yearned for something more than a job … she craved a respected career. Her path shifted when she enrolled in Western Nevada College’s Commercial Driver’s License program.
“I figured getting my CDL would give me better opportunities than working retail and I thought a CDL would offer me more respect in a work career,” Whelpley said.
For Vanessa Maddox, job stability and a decent income attracted her to the profession, plus a desire to learn something new.
“I have always wanted to learn how to drive a tractor/trailer, particularly a manual transmission,” she said.
The timing for Whelpley and Maddox to become commercial drivers couldn’t be better. The American Trucking Association recently reported a shortage of 60,000 drivers in the U.S., and some reports estimate that there will be a need for 160,000 drivers by 2030.
“We are thrilled to see more women joining our program,” said WNC Continuing Education Coordinator Lauren Slemenda Moore. “Initially, we’d have one every few classes, but recently, there has been an uptick in enrollment of women. In our most recent class, we had two women who were absolutely star students, and we’re getting more and more inquiries from women as well. I think they’re seeing that this is a great way for them to provide for their families and have a great career, and I’m excited that more women are throwing their hat in the ring and saying, ‘I can do this, too.'”
Whelpley said having a circle of friends with CDL licenses made her decision to pursue one natural.
“I became interested in getting my CDL because all of the people who I associate with drive and tow and they are all men; so, as a female, mostly everyone is shocked I’d do something like that,” she said.
What others think about her new occupation doesn’t concern Whelpley. WNC’s CDL program has helped other women earn their CDL license and launch a new career, and Whelpley is empowered by the opportunity.
“I guess because it is viewed as a man’s job, I definitely think it makes me feel prouder as a woman that I can do it, too,” Whelpley said.
Maddox said that she isn’t concerned that her gender will factor into employment possibilities — only experience.
“This career field seems open and fair to both males and females,” Maddox said. “Gender does not appear to play a role in performance or skill, therefore making it an equal-opportunity job field.”
As for learning how to drive a tractor trailer, Whelpley said that seasoned instructors Fred de Alba and Joseph Terry provided more help and assistance than she expected in the five-week training program.
“I really liked everything about the CDL program,” she said. “I worked with both Joe and Fred and they both were amazing teachers. I think the thing I liked most was that even if I became discouraged, they both still believed in me and encouraged me to keep trying.”
Maddox said there was only one way to become more comfortable driving a big rig: “Practice, practice, practice. I struggled with understanding the backing and angle concepts with the trailer, but Fred gave me as much practice and help as he could.
“I liked the small class size. Fred worked with us who were struggling.”Learning the pre-trip requirements were challenging for Whelpley, but her instructors took the time to ensure that she was prepared for that part of CDL license testing.
“They really make it easy to remember the pre-trip, even providing YouTube videos, if my own videos from school weren’t enough,” she said. “If I had a question on where the part was, the teachers were more than willing to show me the parts that I wasn’t unsure of. I definitely feel like the men had more of an advantage because they already knew what parts were what, but the teachers were very nice and didn’t let that set me behind. They worked with me independently to ensure I succeeded.”
With her CDL license, Whelpley can haul heavy freight, machinery and construction materials locally, regionally and nationally for employers. She’s excited to be hired for a job that will make her happier.
“I already feel much more confident driving with the truck and trailers,” Whelpley said. “I am very pleased that I got to be a part of WNC’s truck driving school and would highly recommend to other women that they can do it, too.”
Maddox wants to work locally and become experienced so that she can work in the construction industry as a dirt or dump hauler.
WNC’s CDL Prep course provides students with the knowledge and skills to earn a Class A driver’s license. The program’s workforce connections with local businesses such as Southwest Gas and Western Nevada Supply enhance students’ chances for employment afterward and earning a family-sustaining wage. The five-week classes run Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We are extremely proud of our CDL program and the thorough training it provides people pursuing that career,” said WNC President Dr. J. Kyle Dalpe. “Additionally, students who train in our program benefit from workforce partners such as Southwest Gas and Western Nevada Supply, helping them secure employment in the industry.”
Learn more about the program at wnc.edu/continuing-education/motor-vehicle-training-and-safety/commercialdrivers.php. WNC Foundation provides scholarship opportunities for CDL students, visit wnc.edu/scholarship.
For more information, contact Slemenda Moore at (775) 445-4210 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.