Meet Sara Stewart, disabled veteran who went to work as a truck driver through the Career Pathways Advancement Project.

Sarah Stewart VR Workforce Studio Special Guest

Rick Sizemore,
540-688-7552 @vrworkforce

WWRC Foundation Lynn Harris, Foundation Director,  540-332-7542 540-430-4490.

National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials
Cherie Takemoto, PhD Project Director/Senior Research Analyst 703-356-8035 ext. 107  @RSA_NCRTM

Rehabilitation Services Administration  

Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy

Nebraska Vocational Rehabilitation Career Pathways Advancement Project 

Hill Brothers

Nebraska Trucker Magazine VR Article

Nebraska Trucking Association

Janet Drudik, Program Director, Career Pathway Advancement Project 402-484-1908 | FacebookTwitter  LinkedIn


Speaker 1:  VR Workforce Studio.

Sara:  When you leave the military and you become a civilian again, that is the hardest adjustment anyone will ever face. In the trucking industry, it’s like a band of brothers and sisters all over again.

Speaker 2:  Four, three, two, one.

Announcer:  VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.

Speaker 3:  Tech support

Speaker 4:  A position at MASCO Cabinetry

Announcer:  As well as the professionals who have helped them.

Speaker 5:   A job and a career. You got to look at how life changing this is…

Announcer:  And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.

Speaker 6:  To help expand registered apprenticeship.

Announcer:  These are their stories.

Speaker 7:  Because there’s such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.

Announcer:  Now, here’s the host of the VR Workforce Studio. Rick Sizemore.

Rick:  Welcome to episode 81 of the VR Workforce Studio Podcast. This is the first of two special episodes brought to you by the Career Pathways Advancement Project through Nebraska’s vocational rehabilitation. On today’s show we’re talking about the partnership between the Career Pathways Advancement Project and the trucking industry in Nebraska. Kent Grisham, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Nebraska Trucking Association joins us with his insights about how to fill critical truck driving jobs through a network of partners, including vocational rehabilitation. Then we move on down the highway with a transportation company that’s been serving customers across this country and what can only be described as an efficient family centered operation. It’s been going on for the past three decades.

Rick:  We talk with Hill Brothers Transportation recruiting manager, Katie Eakins, about how they have worked with the Career Pathways Advancement Project to fill critical truck driving jobs at Hill Brothers, and Zack Arter joins us to discuss the program and his work with our guests, and today’s big inspiration showcase, Sarah Stewart. Sarah is a disabled veteran who found her way into the trucking industry through the Career Pathways Advancement Project after her military service. She joins us now from the road to share more about her exciting career as a truck driver with Hill Brother’s Transportation. Welcome Sarah.

Sara:  How are you?

Rick:  I am doing fine. You just came in off the road, put your truck through the wash bay. Tell us about your job.

Sara:  Oh, well, let’s see. I drive a 2019 Volvo…

Rick:  Oh wow.

Sara:  And my every week route that I run, I leave on Sunday mornings at 5:00 AM and I head out to Oakland, California to the port, to deliver pork every week.

Rick:  Wow.

Sara:  Then after that’s delivered, then I turn around and go to multiple locations in California to pick up wine to bring back to Omaha, Nebraska or Colorado. What we do is we take all our pork comes out of Tyson in multiple locations. Anywhere from Madison, Nebraska, Storm Lake, Iowa, Waterloo, Iowa. We even have some places up in Minnesota that we pick it all out of and a lot of it we send it over to Japan. For instance, the one I’m going to be taken out as full of like boneless tenderloin and things like that we send over to a Japan Food Corporation in Tokyo.

Rick:  Wow. You’re making me hungry Sara. What did you do in the military?

Sara:  I was an all wheel vehicle mechanic, anything that had wheels, and wasn’t diesel, I worked on it. I was in the army for six and a half years.

Rick:  Six and a half years.

Sara:  I ended up injuring my back when I was deployed overseas in Afghanistan.

Rick:  Could you tell us a little bit about what happened?

Sara:  Basically I was on a put on this record crew where we went out and recover vehicles that either broke down, got hit with an IED or something like that, and we had to bring them back to our motor pool. It’s a very fast process because you want to get out, you want to get hooked up to the vehicle and you want to get in and you want to leave. Well, when I jumped out the one time I didn’t land right, so it ended up messing up my lower back.

Rick:  How did the Career Pathways Advancement Project help you move from being a disabled veteran into the trucking industry?

Sara:  I went over to a school called JTL here in Omaha, Nebraska. I used up all my GI bill with going to college, trying to follow different careers and I just couldn’t find anything with the degrees that I got. So, I went over to JTL because my mom was a truck driver and she actually drove for Hill Brothers.

Sara:  I went over there and talked to a woman named Shelley and we called the boots on ground, a program that’s in Lincoln. But they had for just the first step to happen, it was a year wait. So, she helped me being a veteran, she helped me try to find other choices and that’s how we came in contact with I guess it’s called the CPAP.

Rick:  Right.

Sara:  For short.

Rick:  Right. Career Pathways…

Sara:  Yeah.

Rick:  Advancement Project, CPAP.

Sara:  Yeah. That’s when I got in contact with them, sat down and figured everything out. With my mom being with Hill Brothers and sitting down and talking with them, and them understanding that this is something that I was going to stand behind and I wasn’t just going to be like, Oh well I got my CDL, I’m not going to do this any more. They knew that this was something that basically ran in my blood because my mom and they can see it as I drive every week. And do what I do. They helped me get my CDL.

Rick:  So many people actually go through the college process or they think it through and realize, well maybe there’s another option. Must feel good to be working in an industry where you are in demand.

Sara:  Oh yes. This is something that there is always a demand. I mean there’s times where I’ll go out on the road, and I’ll have something set. Well then they’ll have an emergency load that needs to be picked up or delivered.

Rick:  What would you say to others outside Hill Brothers who’ve not necessarily hired individuals with disabilities.  what would you say to them about hiring someone that has a disability?

Sara:  With the disability I have, I honestly felt that I was never going to get another job because a lot of people do look at, Oh well you have a disability, this isn’t going to work. I looked at a correctional officer, well due to my back, that wasn’t going to work because I could get seriously injured all over again. My thing is if I would have given up and stopped trying, then I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t be sitting behind the wheel of an 18 Wheeler and enjoying myself and having the time of my life doing what I do. Don’t ever give up because there’s always something out there for you.

Rick:  What’s the most enjoyable part of truck driving for you?

Sara:  Being out on the open road. For me, once I get behind the wheel of my truck and I take off for my six days out, it’s the best six days of my life. Even though it’s the same, I do the pretty much almost the same thing every week. It’s still always an enjoyment just to get out on that road and just clear my mind and just worry about what I’m doing right at that moment.

Rick:  Yeah. You do you have a favorite story about being on the road?

Sara:  The guys that I run with, I run with three other guys, and we’re all veterans. The stories that you hear from these guys because they’ve been driving for years. One of the guys, I think he’s been, Hill Brothers alone for 13 years.

Rick:     Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sara:  Just hearing their stories, we’ve talked about the military, we’ve talked about their experiences that they’ve faced while they’ve been out on the road. One of the guys, he helped me and taught me how to throw chains on tires, which I had never done before. What had happened was I ended up getting into truck stop, well it was icy and the parking lot was not plowed and I was bringing back an empty trailer and I got stuck there.

Rick:  Mm-mm

Sara:  I had gotten stuck in a rivet so bad that we sat in a parking lot and was throwing chains on my truck, it was so light that I could not get unstuck.

Rick:  Oh wow.

Sara:  Not at all.

Rick:  Wow.

Sara:  So the first experience that I get to face with throwing chains on my truck was me trying to get unstuck out of a parking lot of a truck stop.

Rick:  Well, what would you say are the key benefits of having been involved in this Career Pathways Advancement Project?

Sara:  The biggest benefit I had, if it wasn’t for them, I would not had been able to get my CDL honestly. With all the help and always staying in contact with me. Not just be one of those people that are like, Oh well you know, she’s done, so let’s move on to the next person. It’s not like that. It’s like they’re always, he’s always there in contact with me to make sure that, you know, how am I doing. Especially after I got done with school and I kept them updated about what was going on and everything. It’s not like one of those things of, Oh well you’re done, so we’ll never talk to you again, type of thing.

Rick:  Right. They stay in touch with you.

Sara:  Yeah. When you get with people that you know, Oh you’re finished so we’re just going to sweep you off to the side. That’s not like that. They care. They want to make sure that you’re doing good and you’re succeeding in what career you pick to do. I would recommend them to anybody if they know, yes this is what I want to do. I got the letter stating that yes Hill Brothers was going to take me on. Their heart is that much into it like mine. That’s how I honestly feel.

Rick:  What is your message to other people with disabilities who might be facing a challenge in looking for those career opportunities in the future?

Sara:  Never give up, honestly because all I did was go to school, took a little job down at my convenience store, was pretty much giving up. I also suffer from PTSD and depression and things like that. Being out here on this road has brought the true me back out. I talk to people I socialize, before I would never do that. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t just give up on everything, because there is always a light that’s going to be there that’ll bring you back to where you like to be as a person.

Sara:  When you leave the military and you become a civilian again, that is the hardest adjustment anyone will ever face. My career as a truck driver, even though it’s only been since September. I feel like I’m back in the military all over again because the people that you work with, it’s just like being in the military. You’re there for each other, you look out for each other, you know you have a problem, you all face it together. If one truck breaks down and you’re, say for instance, we run in groups out there. I run with three other guys. If my truck somehow something happens to my truck, they stop, we figure it out. If I have to get a tow, one of them will stay there until somebody shows up and then they’ll continue on. It’s in the trucking industry, it’s a band of brothers and sisters all over again.

Rick:  Sara Stewart, a disabled veteran who’s moved into the trucking industry with the help of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Career Pathways Advancement Project. She is a long haul trucker running between Nebraska and California and setting a new standard of excellence in the trucking industry. Thank you Sara for being on our podcast and best of luck to you out on the road.

Sara:  Thank you and your welcome.

Speaker 5:  Big Inspiration, Inspiration.

Rick:  Kent Grisham is the president and CEO of the Nebraska Trucking Association. Welcome Kent. You just heard Sara talk about her job at Hill Brothers Transportation, but what’s the labor market like for the Nebraska Trucking Industry?

Kent Grisham:  The labor market in Nebraska is like it is in so many other states. We’re at record unemployment levels, which is a both a wonderful thing and a not so wonderful thing for a state to have. Record low unemployment can lead to shortcomings in filling the workforce. So top priority, whereas the businesses of all types, but especially of course for motor carriers is recruiting drivers.

Kent Grisham:  We’ve really in Nebraska tried to start looking at all of the available markets, if you will, men, women, young, those who are needing a restart in their career, those who are making mid-career changes. We’re really trying to attract all of them to the trucking industry.

Kent Grisham:  One of the ways we’re doing that is by partnering with the schools and the various driver training opportunities around the state, both at the community college level and at the private school level.

Kent Grisham:  We’re also really trying to hit some of those previously unaddressed groups, if you will. One example would be we recently formed the Nebraska Trucking Association women’s council. This is a group of women in the trucking industry in Nebraska, going out and talking to other women that range in age from high school all the way through middle age, trying to show them that the trucking industry offers a wealth of opportunities for women. It’s like the whack-a-mole game.

Rick:  Right.

Kent Grisham:  Where you’re trying to hit as many targets as you can, but I think we’re being pretty effective at it. I think we’re attracting a lot of attention to it. It takes a real partnership between associations like ours, groups like ours, the training schools, the motor carriers themselves. It takes all of us working together to address that workforce development.

Rick:  Kent, we just talked with Sara a disabled vet who went to work through Nebraska’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program. There was a great article in one of your recent additions of the Nebraska Trucker. Now we’ll put a link to that in our show notes. The article talks about the Career Pathways Advancement Project. What’s your perspective on working with Nebraska’s Vocational Rehabilitation to help fill the talent pipeline for Nebraska’s workforce?

Kent Grisham:  We are trying to make sure from the associations a position that whatever red tape there might be, whatever doors that need to be knocked down. It’s our job to play the advocate for the industry and go in there and make sure that there aren’t any barriers for those folks to enter that workforce.

Kent Grisham:  I think it applies not just to drivers, but it also applies to diesel technicians. We have a big shortage of diesel techs as well, and again, great careers for folks needing vocational rehab or needing to start a career or make midlife career change. We’ve got some great, great motor carriers and they need people in both of those sectors driving and diesel techs. The vocational rehab and really vocational training in general is getting a lot more attention, still needs more. We still need to pay more attention to it and hopefully we can convince our political leaders and our bureaucrats to make sure that we’re funneling the appropriate resources to it.

Rick:  Thank you so much for being on the podcast today Kent.

Kent Grisham:  Great. Thank you.

Rick:  Kent Grisham, the head of the Nebraska Trucking Association from the NTA headquarters in Nebraska. Katie Eakins is the recruitment manager for Hill Brothers transportation where Sara works. Katie joins us now from her office at Hill Brothers. Welcome Katie.

Katie:  Thank you for having us.

Rick:  Katie, you just heard Kent’s take on the industry in Nebraska. What’s your reaction?

Katie:  He’s right in saying that there’s definitely two sides to that coin. What I hope for more than anything is that it’s beneficial to the drivers that are currently in the workforce because having low unemployment in Nebraska and certainly the driver shortage nationally has forced transportation companies to really look at their wages and say, am I being competitive enough? It’s forcing a lot of companies to really look, are we really paying these folks what they’re worth?

Rick:  There’s probably never been a time in our history when it’s been more obvious that truckers are crucial to society’s welfare. I mean, alongside health care, logistics, supply chain, truckers are the backbone of a nation. Especially when you look at their role during a national emergency, like this Corona virus that we’ve been experiencing. Katie, tell us if you would, how you got connected with the Career Pathways Advancement Project.

Katie:  I look for any opportunity to connect with folks that might get us in touch with individuals looking at the transportation industry. As you know, a potential opportunity, specifically those that have been in the military and are looking for options once they’ve returned to civilian life. We really want to create that partnership and that relationship where it’s a really good avenue to be introduced to folks that might not otherwise consider this as a career path.

Katie:  We work with just about any organization attached to the military or attached to vocational rehab that might get us in front of people to talk to so we can educate them a little more on what this opportunity might entail. Once you’re in transportation, it’s sort of in your blood. It’s really hard to leave.

Rick:  Yes, absolutely.

Katie:  I fell into it myself sort of accidentally, I loved everything about it and it was truly just the spirit of transportation where there’s not a lot of fluff. It’s not…

Rick:  What you see is what you get.

Katie:  That’s exactly right. I mean it just the honesty and the integrity that people have. They’ll tell you how they feel that there’s really no guessing about it. I think we’re just trying to attract the right people and it’s just a really good organization to be attached to.

Rick:  Katie Atkins is the recruiting manager for Hill Brothers Transportation.

Rick:  Zach Arter with the Career Pathways Advancement Project or CPAP joins us now to talk about vocational rehabilitation in Nebraska, his work with CPAP and Hill Brothers.

Zach:  Thanks Rick. Appreciate you having me this morning.

Rick:  Zach, we just heard an amazing story from Sara, Kent from NTA, and Katie out at Hill Brothers. You’ve worked behind the scenes to pull all this together. How does it make you feel to hear Sara’s story?

Zach:  It’s made me feel great to see her succeed. Honestly, Sarah did all the hard work. I didn’t have to do much. She’s done a great job. The referral was generated from her employer, which is Hill Brothers Transportation. From the get go she was determined to advance her career and succeed. So, it feels good to be a part of that.

Rick:  Yeah. So you’re one of the pros on the front lines of this CPAP grant. Talk us through how you developed this partnership with Hill Brothers.

Zach:  I think it was generated from that NTA article, the Nebraska Trucking Association. I believe that’s where they first heard about the Career Pathways grant. So, we appreciate NTA doing that and also putting in there good to know newsletter. I think that’s where the relationship developed from, and then from there it was just a matter of making sure we follow through with them on our end. We’re sending them qualified candidates, especially those that are just finishing CDL class A training. Also, obviously with Sara and others that they want to refer our way we will help advance their incumbent workers, those that are a fit. So those are the primary items that we are working with Hill Brothers and other companies in that regard.

Rick:  Well that’s great. Now when you listen to Kent Grisham, NTA President. He says we need truckers, we need diesel mechanics, and we’re working with vocational training with vocational rehabilitation. It’s kind of an all hands on deck. So it’s a great environment for Voc Rehab to be connecting with the business community.

Zach:  Yeah, absolutely. He’s definitely riding. He knows the industry much more than I do, of course. And all these industries that the grant works with. There is a projected, well we’re on a shortage of training now and then the projections in the next five to 10 years is a kind of a scary thing. I know that’s something that Kent is really wanting to emphasize. It’s something that we are trying to at least have a small hand in to help out the industry and obviously help individuals with disabilities at the same time.

Rick:  Yep. We’re in such a change transition timeframe right now with electronic vehicles and what. Who knows what the role of the trucker is going to be in coming years, but it’s a little while out till we have the interstate populated with self driving trucks, but even then there’ll still have to be someone in that cab.

Zach:  Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s from what they’re telling me, at least on the industry side there, you’re right. That’s far away. Anyone that’s listening to this that may have that thought of, well I don’t know if I’ll have a job in 10 years if I want to make that my career. I guess from what I’ve heard and know and what they’re telling us that’s not the case. So I think this is still TDL is definitely still an industry, especially if you want to be a driver where you have the opportunity to have a career, have benefits. Really have, especially individuals with disabilities really have that self sufficiency piece, and you can be successful and also have a balance of, work family life. I definitely agree with that.

Rick:  Yeah. So awesome. Now Sara’s story just absolutely is classic. Coming out of the military learning to drive a truck. What kind of things did you offer and what kind of things did CPAP do to support Sara in this transition from the military to trucking?

Zach:  Yeah. Sara is an ideal candidate for the CPAP grant in that she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She wanted to advance and we were able to move quickly especially because we had the employer bought in as well. Obviously they referred her so they were onboard with that as well.

Zach:  What we did in terms of services and helping her was really just funding the CDL training, the class aid training. She did a four week program with JTL trucking here in Omaha. They’re a great training provider in the area and we utilize them a lot. So, she went through JTL and we funded that because that’s the biggest barrier. Many of the companies, they don’t have the ability to fund those trainings and it can be very costly. So it kind of deters people from pursuing that because they can’t afford the training so they never actually get into it or earn their CDL.

Zach:  We funded the training, provided stipends for her as we do all CPAP candidates, and then employment retention. We followed up with her and her employer to make sure she was doing well on the job and all reports from her and her supervisor and HR have been great. They love having her and said she brings so much value to their team.

Rick:  Yeah. Well when you, again, when you read the article in Nebraska Trucker, you mentioned we’re going to put a link to that in the show notes so that our listeners can find the article. When you listen to Kent, this is such a beautiful marriage of the needs of business and the services that you fund. I mean this is the kind of thing that everybody needs right now. Particularly if you’re a person with a disability, there’s going to be a job waiting for you and CPAP in most instances can help fund the training.

Zach:  Yeah, yep, absolutely. Whether it’s people that we’ve reached out to former vocational rehabilitation clients in Nebraska and we asked them if they would like to advance within these certain pathways. That’s one way that we’ve done that. Then also obviously as discussed, the incumbent workers within these industries, individuals with disabilities if they would like to advance. So yes, we’ve been fortunate enough to help a lot of people and see them grow and it helps them and their families and also it also helps business. So yeah, it’s a win win for everybody.

Rick:  Yeah. So what have you learned from this experience of working with CPAP?

Zach:  Whether it’s a younger person in high school, college or even in their twenties and thirties we would like to have them do tours with companies. Do informational interviews with employers and really understand that a lot of these trades are, you can have a great career and manufacturing’s not your old mom and pop sweatshop with transportation, distribution, logistics, you can really earn a good living any of these industries. I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned that it’s almost a fit for anybody. A lot of people are not aware of the training and opportunities and the career that you can have with pursuing one of these industries.

Rick:  Zach Arter works with Nebraska’s Vocational Rehabilitation through the Career Pathways Advancement Project. Thanks for being on the podcast today, Zach.

Zach:  Thanks Rick. I really appreciate it.

Rick:  Here’s Lynn Harris, director of the Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center Foundation.

Lynn Harris:  The foundation is so pleased to bring you these exciting stories of how vocational rehabilitation is changing people’s lives by helping them gain the skills and credentials they need to be successful in business and industry. We thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible: ABLEnow, Aladdin Foods, the council of state administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, CVS Health, and the Hershey Company. You can find out more by visiting us at or find our contact information in the show notes at

Rick:  Well, thank you for joining us for this special episode of the VR Workforce Studio podcast brought to you by Nebraska’s Vocational Rehabilitation through the Career Pathways Advancement Project. This is the first in a two part series focusing on the success of CPAP in Nebraska. Join us for episode 82 when we meet Dave Kelly who found a successful career pathway to Todd’s BBI.

Dave:  Because every time I took a course from Voc rehab, I had essentially got another promotion. The more I knew about food safety, the more my company seen my qualifications for the next position I found.

Rick:  You can always find another exciting episode as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation. You’re at the VR Workforce Studio. Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.

Announcer:  The VR workforce studio podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The foundation publishes and distributes the VR Workforce Studio and manages all sponsor arrangements. Audio content for the podcast is provided to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation by the Virginia department for aging and rehabilitative services in exchange for promotional considerations.