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After tailoring courses with the state trucking association, Alabama educators are reaching a different demographic of students who are now training and entering the trucking industry.
A Diesel by Distance online project at Wallace State Community College is completing its first full year after last summer’s launch to train diesel technicians.
Students can take an on-campus course or the online one containing the theory portion (plus virtual reality headsets for practicing different tasks in preparation for coming to the lab).
“We have actually more adult learners and women in this program than ever before,” said Anna Beard, program coordinator at Wallace State’s Center for Career & Workforce Development. “We have been able to reach a new demographic, an older audience looking for a career change. They come to us because it does have that flexibility, and they are able to pursue something while actually working a full-time job.”
This Spring 2022 semester, 57 total students (six women and six adult learners) were enrolled compared with Spring 2021’s 26 students, with no women and one adult learner.
“Jobs are in very high demand with a huge shortage of technicians. If students are wanting to work while they are in school, they have a job. It’s easy to get a job right now. Most of the companies here start a new technician between $18 and $20 per hour, and that increases as they complete competencies and certifications,” Beard said.
Mara Harrison, special assistant to the Chancellor for Education and Workforce Transformation at Alabama Community College System (ACCS), worked closely with Alabama Trucking Association to create an online instructional platform with short video tutorials for commercial driver licenses.
Students can take online course sections as often as needed but must pass by 80% to progress. Completion averages 15 hours for the theory portion, with in person behind-the-wheel instruction, Harrison said.
Before online training began in March, on-campus instruction took eight to 10 weeks, precluding most full-time workers. Many women also are signing up.
“It’s opening up [CDL training] to people who are really great employees, but didn’t have a way to receive the training because it was supposed to take so much time. Now it’s not a problem,” Harrison said. “We’re having great outcomes from it.”
Image from an online CDL course. (Alabama Community College System)
Most students take the online CDL course from 7:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., indicating they are employed full time but want a career change or better salary, she added. So far, 200 people have completed the training and found jobs.
Also interim director ACCS Innovation Center, which creates curriculum to fill in-demand jobs, Harrison meet with Alabama Truck Association and trucking company leaders to learn what they thought should be taught in the CDL course in addition to federal requirements.
“They helped to perfect it and feel very Alabama. Building the curricula is just as important as delivering a curricula,” she said. “The partnership is the only way that it wins.”
Trucking companies and their employees also featured in learning videos.
There are many reasons for trucking's ongoing labor shortage. We recap discussions from the first half of this year in this "roundabout" episode. Tune in above or by going to RoadSigns.TTNews.com.
“It’s very personal. We tried to focus on people who are familiar,” Harrison said. “They’re people that really have these jobs. These are trucks that you will recognize the name because they exist in Alabama, and that’s kind of the pride piece we put in there.
“We can provide the training at no fee for participants until the money runs out. These are workforce jobs that make a state work or not work. We are kind of prescreening for employment because we want to make good use of the money, so we wouldn’t want to train someone who isn’t going to be eligible for a job.”
Interested parties can complete an online ACCS form (https://innovation.accs.edu/) before being directed to their local community college for the CDL training. Then the community college, which has hiring requirements from area trucking companies, works with students and companies to match candidates with available jobs.
Trucking companies are encouraged to hire students from the program to ensure its success.
“The greatest outcome is employment and that’s good for everybody,” Harrison said.
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