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College cites student success in truck driver training program

Classes available in fall

Illinois Valley Community College truck driver training instructor Tony Mertes (right) demonstrates to student Susan Olsen how to hook up brake lines on a semitractor-trailer.
Illinois Valley Community College truck driver training instructor Tony Mertes (right) demonstrates to student Susan Olsen how to hook up brake lines on a semitractor-trailer.

More than 2,000 students have earned their Class A commercial driver’s license (CDL) through Illinois Valley Community College’s truck driver training since the program opened in 2000, the college reports in a news release.

The CDL comes with all endorsements as students experience behind-the-wheel training as well as acquire skills related to a log book, map reading, backing, shifting and maneuvering.

“Students shouldn’t let not knowing how to drive a manual transmission hinder them from taking the program. About 25 percent of our students have never driven a manual transmission. Our instructors are happy to teach them," said the program's administrative assistant Mary Beth Liss in a news release.

Program coordinator Bruce Hartman said it's a misconception that truck driving careers demand long-distance travel.

“People also think if they get their CDL, they may have to travel and be gone from home for long periods of time. This is incorrect as we have many local jobs," Hartman said. "In fact, we currently have information on over 20 local jobs and about 50 regional and over-the-road jobs."

The college provides lifetime job placement assistance after completion of the program.

“Everyone goes to work at the end of the program. I’ve been in the trucking industry for over four decades and have never seen so many opportunities for drivers,” Hartman said.

Veterans who take advantage of the Illinois Veterans Grant or Post 911 benefits have all but $237 of their tuition paid, Hartman added.

“They are then qualified for the highway maintainers job with the state," he said.

“Municipality and county jobs are also available to those with a CDL and will often put you at the top of the hiring list,” Hartman added.

Industry publication Transport Topics recently reported big truck sales rose 133 percent over last year due to a booming economy.

“This should mean many more opportunities for our students for years to come,” Hartman said.

The program's graduates fill six of eight driver positions at “R” Delivery Inc. in Leland. These positions are mostly local but offer some regional routes.

"We have been hiring graduates for about 18 years," said “R” Delivery President and part-owner Brad Riskedal.

Hartman takes pride in his students’ successes.

“When they finish their state test and have a smile that goes from ear-to-ear and express a tremendous feeling of accomplishment that they never thought was possible, that’s the favorite part of my job,” he said.

From banking to truck driving

After careers in banking and as an entrepreneur, Susan Olsen, of Sandwich, decided to pursue a career as a truck driver.

“The expectation of an immediate job after four weeks of training and knowing the kind of money that can be made along with the fact traveling would offer me a sense of freedom and afford me some financial security at this point in my life,” Olsen said in a news release from the college.

She started researching different options for learning to drive a truck in December 2017.

"No other school or contractual training program appealed to me. I wanted to be free and clear of any obligations and pick my own job. My interview with IVCC was the end of my search."

Olsen made the decision to enroll that same day as her interview.

Despite a long commute to the Oglesby campus, Olsen said the program was worth her time and offered her many proud moments.

“The first time I got into IVCC’s 18-wheeler and backed up in a straight line, I was impressed with myself," she said. "When I completed my road test and the DMV tester told me I passed, I put both of my fists in the air and whooped and yelled. I gave a thumbs-up to my trainers and classmates across the parking lot and later texted my family. Everyone is so happy for me."

Her favorite part of the program is her trainer Tony Mertes’ approach to the pre-trip inspection.

“His sequencing and attention to detail, along with visuals, helped me nail the pre-trip testing at the DMV,” Olsen said, “Getting into an unusual profession for a woman and taking my age into account, I aced the classroom part and did well on the pre-trip. Learning the clutching, shifting and timing was the challenge, but I got my CDL-A license on the first try!”

Olsen's summer of training is over and she already has a job lined up.

“It was a grueling schedule and a long drive in, but worth the trip,” she said.

About the program

This fall, IVCC will offer the 10-credit truck driver training course from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday beginning Monday, Sept. 24.

The four-week, 160-hour program combines classroom presentation and hands-on experience leading to a CDL.

Evening classes are 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday for six weeks beginning Monday, Oct. 8, and CDL Refresher classes are available for drivers who need to update their skills. The average age of students in IVCC’s program is 40 and the oldest student was 72.

The minimum age to enroll is 18. There are no prerequisites or prior experience required; financial aid is available.

For information, call Hartman at 815-224-0266.

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