Fresno employment program could help ease port container logjam

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Giant backlogs at American ports have slowed products being shipped all across the country, but an employment program in Fresno could help ease the logjam, possibly in time for the holidays.

An eight-week trip through truck driving school put Martin Melendez on a new financial path.

"It changed my life because I have better opportunities now," said Melendez. "I can help my family out by having a stable job."

Trucking industry leaders say they're short about 80,000 drivers.

Melendez says he had several jobs to choose from after finishing at United Trucking School.

The south Fresno truck driving school held a job fair Friday and got longer lines than expected.

It's free through Workforce Connection and some of the new wave of drivers see the training as a big opportunity, especially right now.

"One thing that pushed me towards it was hearing on the news that are bays are full of trailers that can't come in and it's because they have no drivers," said prospective truck driver Thomas Nichols. "I'm here to be part of the solution and fix that."

The pandemic-driven logistics backup has led some trucking companies to offer signing bonuses or better compensation.

But Nichols says he wants to get in the business for the long haul.

"Success for me looks like at the end of all this definitely gainfully employed, self-employable, and a long-term owner-operator," Nichols said.

The United program trains drivers on natural gas trucks, so they say it's environmentally friendly.

Administrators say the newest applicants could be on the road by Christmas, but they need help from state bureaucracy.

"More drivers would ease the port access but we also need the support from the DMV," said Oscar Robinson, who worked on the job fair for West Fresno Advanced Transportation. "The DMV is backed up also."

The DMV does commercial driver testing at 23 offices statewide.

Some have appointments available within days. Others are booked solid for months.

But schools like United can help get new drivers through the testing and out on the road.
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