OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Johnson County Community College (JCCC) is figuring out where it’ll invest $5 million to nearly double the number of people who can get Commercial Driver’s Licenses through their program.

Half of the money came from the Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) program at the state level, which awards COVID-related American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funding to programs across the state.

That $2.5 million is matched by The Sunderland Foundation and JCCC, allowing it to buy two or three more big rigs, expand the training facility, and nearly double the number of students who can be enrolled in training at any given time.

Jessica Kidd is one of the lucky 300 students enrolled right now. She wants to get her CDL to give her a chance to earn money alongside her day job while potentially supporting a trucking business she and her boyfriend are planning to start.

“What can I do to help,” Kidd said. “What can I do to further his career as well as mine.”

Behind Kidd is a long a growing waiting list.

“We just can’t meet the demand currently for the folks who are wanting the [CDL] training,” said JCCC Director of Programing and Continuing Education Tim Frenzel.

COVID supply chain issues, trucker retirements, and driving regulations have created a massive demand for CDL drivers to move goods both short and long distances. That demand didn’t exist for much of Instructor Rob Kluender’s career on the road.

He’s watching jobs that used to require years of experience be filled by drivers he trains up almost right away.

“It’s fun helping people out knowing they’re going to improve their lives,” Kluender said. “They’re going to have options.”

The demand is so high that Frenzel says new drivers can make roughly $40-50,000 as soon as they get their licence without much trouble finding an opening.

If they work less-desirable shifts and are willing to spend time on the road, Frenzel says they can earn more than $100,000 within a few years.

This all comes right as the United States is gearing up for another holiday season where trucks will need to move gifts across the nation and another winter where CDL drivers are getting paid bonuses to be ready to clear snow using large plow trucks.

For Kidd, it’s about bringing more control to her future.

“Life doesn’t play fair all the time so you have to be able to help and step in when nobody else will or do the hard things that nobody else can,” Kidd said.

Frenzel says JCCC is also looking for instructors who already have their CDL to help train new drivers.

You can find more information about that opportunity here.