QAVTC program helps students get closer to earning a commercial driver's license while still in high school

Sam Sparrow uses a laptop for diagnostics on a semi-truck during a diesel tech course at the Quincy Area Vocational Technical Center Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. QAVTC will pilot a program for students to start working on their CDL requirements with online course to become a truck driver without paying John Wood Community College tuition costs. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 29, 2018 10:30 pm

QUINCY -- Steven Case plans to follow in the footsteps of other family members in making a career choice.

"Truck driving is just part of our family," the Quincy High School senior said. "I'll be a fourth-generation truck driver. It kind of runs in my blood."

So he's planning to earn his commercial driver's license, or CDL, required for driving a truck -- and he's getting a head start thanks to plans by Quincy Area Vocational Technical Center to expand its diesel tech program beginning this spring to help students get closer to earning a CDL while still in high school.

"It's a great idea. A CDL is a great thing to have," Case said. "People are always going to need to eat and have stuff they need to buy, and it doesn't get to you unless it comes from a truck. There's always going to be trucks, and with trucks, there's always going to be truck drivers."

The plan expands the partnership between QAVTC and John Wood Community College and could provide another way to address the nationwide truck driver shortage.

Under a pilot program, second-semester seniors like Case in the diesel tech program will be able to take an online truck driver training fundamental course, offered by JWCC, at QAVTC "so they're that much closer to getting a CDL when they graduate," QAVTC Director Kaleb Smith said.

"After they complete the online class their senior year, we'll have the truck driver training class offered in the summer. They can come straight to John Wood, sign up for the driving portion of the program, an eight-week class. They finish up then and will be ready for their CDL, assuming they have turned 18," said Dave Hetzler, JWCC's interim dean of career and technical education.

Students earn their CDL with less of a course load at JWCC and at less cost.

"Typically they have to sign up for our total program. They still could get it done in eight weeks, but it's twice the load. They would be in class every day instead of every other day if they're just in the driving portion," Hetzler said. "It gives some more students a path into John Wood."

It also provides a pathway to getting a job.

People with a CDL "when they're 18, they can only drive within the state of Illinois. They can't cross the borders until age 21," Hetzler said. "They can drive local and in state, and there's a lot of opportunities with delivery drivers."

Smith expects three or four students to be involved in the pilot program, which will expand in the 2019-20 school year.

"All the high schools in Adams and Pike will be able to participate in that opportunity," Smith said. "It will be more than a Quincy program."

QAVTC students already have the opportunity to graduate with skills as a diesel mechanic, including spending time servicing JWCC's trucks. "It's a win-win. Students are learning, and they get the work done at a lower cost," Smith said.

"It's something I enjoy," Case said. "I get a lot of hands-on not just with trucks and tractors but also with construction equipment. I've worked on our forklift, on pickups, grain trucks."

Case plans to go to JWCC to finish his CDL after graduation then join the U.S. Army as a mechanic.

"This is a great program for showing kids there's other things out there besides college," Case said. "I'm not against college, but it's not for everybody, and I'm one of those people."