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Flexible Job Training for CDL Program

Flexible Job Training for CDL Program photo 2/9/2016 2:02:46 p.m. - Hobbs, NM.  

[Story by Dorothy Fowler - Hobbs News Sun]

More than a year ago, the New Mexico Junior College’s Training and Outreach (T&O) staff thought it would be a good idea to expand an already successful program by adding a new option. That option would allow people who already had some proficiency driving big trucks to earn a certificate of completion that would allow them to take the commercial driver’s license test. Their idea was to add a one week training program.

Their idea has paid off in a big way for the college, students who have taken the course and the southeastern New Mexico area. Not only has the program benefited dozens of people who needed jobs, University of New Mexico has contacted NMJC about the possibility of replicating the program in Albuquerque.

Ramon Lopez, one of the trainers in the CDL program, said Monday that as candidates for the standard three-week driving program were interviewed, it became apparent that some of them already knew how to drive a truck. “They had been driving for the companies they worked for or they had driven on farms or ranches,” he said. “Some of them had had a CDL in the past and had let it go and needed a refresher.”

As people came in for interviews, it became apparent that in addition to the three-week classes for novices and the one-week classes for more advanced drivers, there was a need for classes for intermediate drivers. Those were the people who were past the novice stage, but not quite ready for a commercial driver’s license. Lopez said after the interview with office staff, prospective drivers drove one of NMJC’s three trucks while he watched. “I had the final say as to how long they needed to train,” he said.

Jeffrey Reyes, who is in the two-week program, said he could have taken the one-week course, but thought he would learn more if he completed two weeks of training. “There are more job opportunities for people with a CDL,” he said. “When I get my license, I would like to drive for an oilfield company or do long-haul shipments across country.”

Valentin Villanueva, who was practicing backing a box trailer into space bordered by two red tracks, said he is already working. “My company is paying for the training,” he said. “I’m going to be driving between here and Jal carrying equipment for rig support.”

Lopez said that the people who are admitted to the classes must have a clean driving record. “We don’t want to turn people who can’t handle passenger car loose in a truck,” he said.

One-week CDL training was made possible by a $2.5 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant from the United States Department of Labor. The target clientele included unemployed people, veterans, including members of the National Guard, ethnic minorities and women. NMJC’s driving program has also included some people who are trying to get back into society after having been in prison.

A major purpose of the grant was to develop several short-term workforce training opportunities to meet industry employment demands. Grant team members and Luisa Ruiz, director of transportation at NMJC, launched the one-week CDL training program in February 2015.

“We quickly realized that there was a need for more training opportunities to better accommodate drivers with varying levels of truck driving skills and experiences,” said Ruiz.

Since the inaugural training Ruiz and Alejandro Ojeda, one-week CDL instructor, have held 20 training sessions and 58 trainees have gone through the program. More than 91 percent of students who completed the one-week training have received their CDLs.

According to Rachel Gallagher, career support technician, only one person failed the test on the first attempt and four others found other jobs and never took the test.

“It has been a great privilege to meet and teach the wonderful people of Hobbs and the surrounding area,” said Ojeda. “I sincerely hope to have many more great years with NMJC and help expand the exciting programs we have created to help enrich people’s lives that desire to improve their future.”

Ruiz and T&O staff did not stop there. In July, they unveiled the two-week CDL training for intermediate-level drivers. The one- and two-week programs increased CDL training output for training and outreach.

“The addition of the one- and two-week trainings allow us to respond better to the needs and experiences of our students and to more effectively reach them,” said Ruiz.

Staff with the T&O Division specialize in offering workforce development and customized training for the region’s industries. While training for jobs in the oil and gas training has been a large part of the workforce training at NMJC, T&O staff have developed several training programs that include other industries.

Gallagher said her office is “in constant motion. We go out and talk to businesses and find out what skills their workers will need and then we start a program to teach those skills.”

One of the areas the college is developing involves control systems and maintenance of those systems, Gallagher said.

The downturn in the oil industry has not had a disastrous effect on the CDL program, Gallagher said. “Demand has remained constant. Instead of a three month waiting list, there is now a one month wait, but the classes are always full.”

Ruiz said that in the downturn several years ago, demand went almost to zero. “But it has remained constant this time. People come in here and want to learn the skills that will help them get a job and feed their families,” she said. Ruiz said that NMJC is one of five CDL testing sites in New Mexico. It also operates a testing site in Seminole. The people who give the tests are employees of the junior college who have been certified by the state. Trainers cannot give the qualifying tests for the CDL, she said.

Ruiz, Gallagher, Ojeda and Reyes agreed that NMJC is on the cutting edge of developing courses for workers who want to develop new skills or upgrade skills they already have. “The one-week CDL training is one of them,” Gallagher said.

Dorothy N. Fowler can be reached at 575-391-5446 or education@hobbsnews.com .

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