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Butte college training commercial drivers to make up for shortage

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Posted at 5:15 PM, Sep 20, 2022

BUTTE — There’s a big demand in Montana and across the country for skilled workers. Driving commercial vehicles is part of that demand. Highlands College in Butte is training the next generation to meet that demand.

“Now, take your RMP up to 1,200, straight up. A lot of them have never been in a truck, or any vehicle, with a standard transmission or a clutch, so we’re starting a lot of it right from scratch. It’s real interesting and it’s amazing how quickly these guys pick on to it,” said CDL Instructor Jim Dick.

The two-year college, which is part of Montana Tech, has been running its truck driving course for about a year where students in the lineman program can earn their commercial driver’s license. The program will also be open this fall to people wanting to earn the CDL.

It’s about getting more people trained in skilled trades.

“These students come in, they’re here for a semester, six weeks or two years, they come out they’re ready to go to work, they’re hands-on and they can go,” said the Director of Workforce Development at Highlands College.

According to the International Road Transport Union, there’s a shortage of commercial drivers, so students can expect to find work once they’ve completed their training.

“You come out here like in these programs, you leave, you get a job. You go to four years of school, one thing you’re guaranteed you’re going to own a student loan, you know, here you start off making money,” said Dick.

Highlands recently purchased this 53-foot hauler with federal Covid-19 Economic Relief funds to help students get hands-on training.

“This is a different game. It’s nothing like driving a half-ton manual or three-quarter ton or even a one-ton manual, it’s not the same,” said 18-year-old Robert Gutman of Missoula.

For the students, it’s the hands-on experience they get that will contribute to producing skilled drivers.

“In the classroom, I don’t learn too well. I’ve always learned better with my hands, so getting out here getting on the poles, getting in the truck, it’s way more constructive for me. I can apply that easier, I can learn from it easier,” said Gutman.