BBCC Gets Governor’s Award for Innovative CDL Program

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For Immediate Release
Contact: Doug Sly 509-793-2004

BBCC gets Governor’s Award for Innovative CDL Program

Big Bend Community College is the recipient of the Governor’s 2011 Best Practices Award for its innovative program to help farm workers move from the field to behind the wheel of a commercial truck.

The Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training(I-BEST) uses the model of two instructors in the classroom—one teaching professional and technical content while the other supports development of basic skills in reading, math or language skills.

The program has prepared more than 150 low-wage workers for higher-wage, in-demand transportation jobs needed by the area’s agribusinesses.

“By introducing our unemployed to companies seeking new talent, we’re helping our economic recovery two-fold,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire said. “We’re putting the unemployed back to work, while ensuring companies have the workforce needed to succeed and expand.”

The Governor’s Best Practice Awards recognize programs and projects that create new jobs and economic activity in the state while helping Washington workers get the training they need to land a job and earn a living wage. BBCC’s IBest Program is one of four recognized by Gregoire in 2011.

“Improving skills to meet high demand positions is critical to the region’s economy, “said Sandy Cheek, Director of Basic Skills at BBCC. “The I-BEST CDL program has helped strengthen the economy, and helped an underserved population move from seasonal, low-wage work to more year-round, living-wage jobs.”

What sets BBCC’s program apart is how well it targets adult workers, Cheek said.

Many students in BBCC’s Commercial Driver’s License program are low-skilled, Spanish-speaking agricultural workers.

Classes are not scheduled on traditional college quarters, but instead meet three nights a week and all day Saturday and Sunday for 10 weeks. This allows students to continue working as they prepare for a new career.

Students completing the program have a 98 percent pass rate on the CDL exam and nearly all of them get jobs in trucking in their communities.

Average annual earnings of students who complete the program exceeds $27,000, a 40 percent increase from their previous wages. Even during a recession, there is tremendous demand for graduates, Cheek said.

The program was launched with federal adult basic education and workforce development grants from the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges. BBCC later received a High Demand Workforce Development grant to refine the program.

Many local employers, especially in agriculture and food processing, need drivers to move products and raw materials, Cheek said.

Students have been referred to the program by the north Central Workforce Development Council and Opportunity Industrialization Center. They also support tuition for eligible recipients.