Training Programs Help Eliminate Roadblocks for Female Truckers
Rachel Padilla, Nikcole Morgan part of national trend as more women enter trucking industry
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Oct 29, 2023
Rachel Padilla is part of a growing number of women turning to truck driving as a career. (Courtesy photo from Rachel Padilla)
By Elizabeth Sampson
Special to the Wyoming Truth
When Rachel Padilla, 33, first got behind the wheel of a semi last December, she was a bit intimidated by the massive size of an 18-wheeler and the realization that it takes a long time to stop one—and a lot of space to turn.
“The first couple of weeks are rough, but it smooths out, and you get it under your belt, and it’s not really a big deal,” said Padilla, who stands 5’1” and had trouble moving the seats far enough forward to reach the truck’s pedals.
Despite initial jitters, Padilla, of Yoder, saw truck driving as a stable career choice and obtained a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in May. She’s not alone: Padilla is part of a growing trend of women truck drivers. She plans to use her CDL to form a two-truck hay hauling operation with her boyfriend, who also has a CDL.
Nikcole Morgan, 48, of Torrington, also recently sought out CDL training and licensing. She comes from a trucking family: her dad owned a trucking company that hauled horses and cattle between Texas and Michigan, and her sister hauls dairy cattle in Ohio. When Morgan, a disabled veteran, was looking for a way to support herself, turning to the family business made sense—and working with livestock was an added bonus.
“I find working with cattle and hauling cattle peaceful,” she said. “There’s a love for it, I guess.” Often she will pull a 32-foot trailer with a pickup and haul livestock, but she didn’t want to be limited with the combination of truck or trailer she can drive, so she opted for a full CDL.
Jennifer Hedrick, president and CEO of the national organization Women in Trucking (WIT), said flexibility is why many women enter the profession. Not only that, but trucking provides a solid living wage, as many truckers earn upper five and six-figure salaries, she said.
WIT’s annual trucking industry survey, which was released in June, found that 12.1% of truck drivers are women, down from 13.7% in 2022. Still, the number of women drivers has increased over the last decade—up from single digits, according to Hedrick.
Morgan has seen that growth firsthand through a side job in safety and compliance for a St. Louis-based trucking company.
“We are still the minority, but we are growing in the industry,” she said. “I think some of it is that [women are] searching for a little bit more independence. Whether the rates are good or bad, trucking is always going to be there. Product has to be moved. For us as a country to work, we have to have product.”
Hitting the road
Both Morgan and Padilla trained for their CDL at Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington. The school launched the training program in 2020 and currently has its fifth female student enrolled.
Program director Ed Kimes said students must pass a CDL learner’s permit test, a drug test and a Department of Transportation physical. Training consists of online learning, in-class instruction and real-world driving experience, with a total cost of $5,100.
Pre-trip inspection is a key part of passing a CDL test, so Kimes said instructors emphasize that with the students on the school’s training trucks.
Students begin on a skills course, practicing hooking and unhooking trailers and backing them up. Next, students and instructors head to the rural roads around Torrington, first in a tractor with no trailer, where they can practice shifting the semi up and down.
“We’re pretty fortunate in Torrington—we’ve got a lot of backroads nobody is on,” Kimes said. “Once we feel like they have the shifting down pretty well, then we hook up a trailer and we take them out on the backroads with the trailer.”
From there, students practice driving on highways and around town. “They are going to be entry level drivers no matter what, but we want them to be the top-end of the level of entry level drivers,” he said.
Kimes, who grew up in a logging area and saw many women driving log and construction trucks, said it wasn’t until he spent 35 years as a heavy truck mechanic at truck stops that he noticed there were not too many women driving trucks outside of logging. He believes there’s a reason for the current uptick in women in the industry.
“Trucking is really the number one equal opportunity employer,” Kimes said. “It doesn’t matter if you are male or female—you get paid by the mile.”
While the job is physically demanding, Kimes said smaller-statured people can use different ways to load a truck or chain up tires. He said one challenge entry-level women drivers can face is finding an experienced female driver to travel with them as a mentor.
WIT has a mentor-matching program, as well as other ways to eliminate roadblocks for women who want to truck—some of which are simply myths about the industry that keep women from considering it.
“There’s still a large portion of the population that sees this as a male-oriented job,” Hedrick said. “Another myth is you have to be gone for days and weeks at a time. There are many companies that have opportunities for everyone to leave in the morning and be back in the evening.”
Kimes is glad more women are getting into the business.
“I feel like women are some of the best drivers on the road,” he said. “They are only limited by their own ambition level. You can drive local. You can drive coast to coast. You can see our country and get paid to do it.”
As for Padilla, she now has over 800 miles under her belt since obtaining a CDL.
“I’ve enjoyed seeing new things, and every day is different,” she said.