Semi Sisters Take the Road with Help from the RPC

Semi Sisters Take the Road with Help from the RPC

Do the unthinkable: That’s what Champaign’s Itzel Gaona says her sister, Idania Gaona, has always motivated her to do.

For Itzel, the unthinkable was earning her Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), but by following in Idania’s footsteps through Truck Driver Training at Parkland College, the unthinkable became a reality.

“I underestimated myself a lot because I was not knowledgeable,” says Itzel, who earned her CDL in March 2022 and now works for a local trucking company in Champaign. But Idania would tell her, “there are opportunities out here and you have to strive to get them. And we can do it together.” Idania, who drives for a national trucking company based out of California hauling packages, earned her CDL in the fall of 2020.

A record number of women like Itzel and Idania are hitting the road as drivers in the trucking industry, where median hourly earnings can reach $22.66 or more, according to the US Dept. of Labor. Entry-level drivers can earn between $47,000 and $70,000 per year, and the career offers a variety of employers, jobs, equipment, locations, and driver options.

“As a minority female, I had limited resources; I was living paycheck to paycheck and it was very stressful,” Idania explains. “A friend told me about the CDL program, and after graduation, I found a job close to home and drove on my own for a year. In one week driving a truck, I made the same as what I used to make in a month.” After her year of solo truck driving, Idania even got a chance to drive with her sister.

Parkland’s eight-week CDL training is designed for individuals with little to no commercial driving experience. Training includes 40 hours of classroom learning and 120 hours of behind-the-wheel training.

“It was hard at first, yes, but my instructors were very patient,” Itzel says about her CDL classes. “They work with you at a steady pace, and they’re informative and friendly. I loved being in class.”

Itzel and Idania say if they can earn their truck driver’s licenses, others can too.

“I’m always encouraging people I know who have a driver’s license how beneficial this can be,” she says. “So many doors can be opened to them, and there are plenty of job opportunities that may fit their needs.”

“You can do it!” Idania adds. “We are mothers and are doing it! Take that chance; the reward is amazing.”

The RPC’s Workforce Development division assisted the Gaona sisters through the WIOA program. Both sisters came to the East Central Illinois workNet Center—Idania in late 2020 and Itzel in early 2022—after being laid off from their jobs as bus drivers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both of the sisters worked with Workforce Development staff to plan their future through career planning, guided comprehensive assessments, and testing processes.

The program covered the cost of the Gaona sisters’ CDL training. While they were in training the program also provided them with case management and job placement support, as well as follow-up services for one year after they completed the program.

Story and photos reprinted with permission from Parkland College.