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Financing Options for Transportation Career Education

Transportation has consistently maintained its place as a significant industry across the world. In the United States alone, demand for transportation accounted for 8.4% of the GDP, which amounted to $1.9 trillion. However, despite consistent employment demand in this industry, there have been significant labor shortages in the face of the Great Resignation. Supply chain disruptions, higher costs for shipping, and the increased demand for goods all drove potential drivers to look elsewhere for less demanding work.  

The Minnesota Trucking Association estimated that in 2021 there was a shortage of approximately 60,000 drivers in the U.S. Meanwhile, a 2020 TechForce report indicated that the U.S. would need to fill over 600,000 positions for auto and diesel technicians in coming years to keep up with demand. This demand is inspired by new automotive technology and the need for specialized skills to work on them — such as those who know not only diesel engines, but electric and hybrid technology as well. 

Considering the consistency of employment demand in the transportation sector, and the current dearth of professionals to fill these positions, this industry provides many opportunities for comfortable careers, as trucking and automotive companies are struggling to find qualified employees.

Education in Transportation

Many employees in the transportation industry require certain educational credentials to be accepted by employers. This may include various two or four-year degrees, depending on the specific industry. For example, jobs for auto technicians often only require a degree from a trade school or community college, but auto technicians may need a B.S. in automotive technology if they want to go into a particular specialty. 

Certain professions also require further certification or training hours to be certified under U.S. law. For example, most commercial drivers are required to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) through their home state. As such, this requirement is not up to the individual employer and is common throughout the transportation industry.

Financial Assistance for CDL Learners

Despite the training being legally required in many cases, it can be relatively expensive to acquire a CDL. This cost can also vary depending on various factors such as your home state, the type of CDL you are pursuing, and the type of training program that you are in. However, there are many options for financial assistance that you can pursue to fund your CDL training and other education you may require.

Grants

Grants that can help fund CDL training include the following:

  • WIOA Grants: The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) was a federal law that was signed into law in 1998 to help workers acquire the skills they need to succeed in the workforce. The law provided funding for a variety of programs, including job training, education, and support services for job seekers. However, as the economy and the job market evolved, it became clear that there was a need for a more comprehensive approach to workforce development.

    The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law in 2014 to replace WIA. WIOA is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the workforce. The law emphasizes the need for collaboration between employers, educational institutions, and workforce development organizations to meet the evolving needs of the labor market.

    The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds various training and employment services to improve employment opportunities. Specific grants that fall under this umbrella include various unemployment grants, various adult and youth program grants, grants for indigenous peoples, grants for national farmworkers, and grants related to the Reentry Employment Opportunities (REO) Program.
  • Pell Grants: Pell grants are awarded to undergraduate students who have substantial financial need.
  • Veterans CDL Grant: The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) intermittently distributes funding to technical and community colleges throughout the U.S., to support CDL training programs for veterans and their family members. Veterans with applicable experience may also be eligible for the Military Skills Test Waiver Program, which can waive two years of experience from the requirements of a CDL training program.
  • SNAP Employment and Training: The SNAP employment and training program provides education and training benefits to SNAP recipients to improve their career opportunities.

Alongside grants, scholarships are another fantastic potential source of funding for CDL training, as this is also money that you do not have to pay back.

Scholarships

Eligibility requirements for scholarships may vary more than those for grants. While they may be needs-based, they can also be merit-based. Furthermore, they can have more specifics for their parameters, such as requiring the recipient to declare a certain career intention that falls under eligibility requirements. Scholarships that can help fund CDL training include the following:

Scholarship opportunities may fluctuate from year to year based on factors such as the amount of yearly donations to the overseeing programs.

Tuition Reimbursement Programs

Tuition reimbursement programs are programs offered through an employer which reimburse employees for the cost of tuition. Often, this will be specific to courses that will support the employee’s education within the industry. The reimbursement may be full or partial, depending on the specific parameters offered through your organization. Depending on the program, you may also be required to work a minimum length of time for the company that funded the program. If you plan on moving or finding a different employer after gaining CDL training, this may not be the best option.

Company-sponsored Training

Your company may also provide training at its own expense to qualify you for certification. Such opportunities are often established and outlined within your employment contract. These options are typically offered by companies that require a CDL for a position.

Diesel Technicians

Diesel service technicians and mechanics, in particular, represent another prevalent profession in the transportation industry that requires quite a bit of training and education. These professionals inspect, maintain, and repair various types of diesel-powered vehicles. This could include everything from a Jeep to a tractor to a sea vessel. The median salary for diesel technicians was $48,690 per year as of 2021, and the position is expected to experience a 4% growth rate between 2021 and 2031. Although some positions only require a high school diploma, others may require further education or training. 

While diesel has its problems, diesel-powered vehicles remain prevalent as diesel engines are more durable and reliable than many alternatives. Furthermore, many vehicles that commonly utilize diesel engines — such as semi-trucks and freight trains — are integral in maintaining the integrity of supply chains. Therefore, the people who inspect and maintain these engines have important jobs that support our economy.

Responsibilities

Diesel service technicians and mechanics may have a wide variety of responsibilities. However, some common responsibilities include:

Although these responsibilities are considered the standard among diesel technician employers, some technicians may have more or less, depending on the employer and the specific position.

Scholarships

The following scholarships can be used to fund education and training for diesel technicians and mechanics:

It is also always important to research individual companies and educational institutions, as they may also offer varying or one-time scholarships.

Veteran Programs

Due to the stability of the profession and the focus on experience over formal education, many veterans benefit from working in transportation fields like diesel technology. Several programs can help veterans and their family members further their careers in diesel technology. These programs include:

Typically, these programs are sponsored by government institutions or individual organizations. Colleges, trade schools, and private companies are all institutions that may offer unique opportunities to aspiring students who are veterans.

Student Loans for Trade School

Aspiring diesel technicians and mechanics can also apply for student loans to fund trade school. There are federal and private student loans. Federal student loans are loans funded through the federal government, which include:

  • Direct subsidized loans;
  • Direct unsubsidized loans;
  • Grad PLUS Loans;
  • Parent PLUS Loans.

As opposed to federal student loans, private student loans are funded through a bank, credit union, or other lenders — but they do function similarly. 

Although private loans are popular, you must do your research before jumping into this option. Exhaust all other funding options, such as grants, scholarships, and FAFSA before falling back on loans, as they do not need to be paid back as loans do. Additionally, student loans often feature high-interest rates compared to other types of loans. 

You should also always review the school’s accreditation before pursuing options for financial aid. Choosing an accredited school can drastically increase your chances of qualifying for various forms of financial aid, especially on the federal level. Furthermore, it is not ideal to spend financial aid on unaccredited programs, as they are less valuable in the workforce.

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