CDL Program Earns Raves from Employers, Graduates 100th Student
By Brian Kleemann
In less than two years, College of DuPage’s Commercial Driver’s License program has achieved a reputation for excellence, which is reflected in a near-perfect placement rate for all of its graduates and the fact that the program recently celebrated its 100th graduate.
“One month after we opened, recruiters were calling us about our students,” said Cristina Willard, program development manager with College of DuPage Continuing Education. “We’ve done so well so far, and we hope to keep growing.”
Watch a video about the CDL program.
In a recent letter to the College, Schneider National shared its Commercial Driver Services Scorecard, in which all 25 CDL program graduates from College of DuPage hired by Schneider have receive perfect marks – no washouts/no shows, no preventable crashes and no lost time due to injuries. Joe Cassidy, Dean of Continuing Education and Extended Learning, said this is one of many positive stories he has heard from students, employers and the State of Illinois as to the excellence of the program.
“This latest endorsement – a perfect scorecard from a major trucking firm of our graduates they’ve hired – is just another in a long list of glowing endorsements for our team, which works on a daily basis to connect people with a new career while going the extra mile to help the drivers develop as people too,” he said.
The program, which launched in January of 2012, is the result of a partnership with Bell CDL. Chris Bell, who previously operated a tow truck business before obtaining his CDL, was convinced that a truck driving school could succeed, especially since one did not exist in DuPage County. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 21 percent growth for heavy and tractor/trailer drivers through the year 2020.
Bell and his parents – Jim, a retired bank senior vice president, and Isobel, a retired economic developer – met with Cassidy about launching a new CDL program at College of DuPage.
“It was clear this market wasn’t being served,” Cassidy said. “They wanted to develop a high-quality program that trained drivers for immediate entry into the workforce, which is exactly the type of programs we offer. It was clear they knew what they were doing.”
The program offers a 240-hour course that covers over-the-road, maneuvers, skills yard and classroom training. Classes begin every six weeks and are offered at COD’s Addison Regional Center, which features both classroom space and an outdoor training area, where students learn to drive a two-seat Mack truck and a Freightliner sleeper truck.
Students range in age from 18 to 71 and consist of both men and women who come to the program from a variety of professions, including real estate, stock trading, construction and finance. Nearly 25 percent take advantage of government programs such as the Workforce Investment Act.
Stewart Swartz (Naperville) recently was the 100th graduate of the CDL program. He previously had earned his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Texas A&M University and worked a variety of jobs after graduation, including six years at a consulting company. But the desk job became tiresome, and he began looking for something new.
He ended up working in a coffee shop and at a transportation company, which sparked an interest in driving. When the coffee shop closed and he lost his job, Swartz attended an orientation session about the CDL program offered at College of DuPage and signed up.
“The program was fantastic,” he said. “They tell you exactly what it’s like in the industry and they know exactly what skills you need to pass the tests. You also receive plenty of hands-on training with the trucks.”
Swartz was impressed by the number of recruiters who visited to the program. He received a half dozen pre-hire letters and secured a job with Roehl Transport before graduation.
“I highly recommend this course to everyone,” he said. “One of the best parts was meeting people from all different backgrounds who come through this program.”
Isobel Bell said the details set College of DuPage apart from other programs.
“We screen applicants ahead of time so, for example, we can see if there’s anything on their driving record,” she said. “If someone is looking for a refresher course, one of our instructors can provide a skills assessment. We help students prepare for their exams. We even provide the soft skills needed to get a job, such as how to interview and how to dress for an interview. In fact, most schools don’t help with job placement.”
Chris Bell, who previously drove tankers and flatbeds as well as taught in other CDL programs, is the chief instructor and shares teaching duties with Manny Valdes. Bell said the program goes above state regulations in terms of programming and preparation.
“We’ve kept class sizes relatively small, because we want them to receive the best possible training,” he said. “People also think students are just learning how to drive a truck. But they are also learning the whole process, including how to keep logs, map-reading skills and how to plan trips.”
The near-perfect placement rate for graduates reflects on the high quality of training they received. In addition to Schneider National, companies such as Crete Carrier, Iron Mountain and Tri-Air Transportation are now regularly recruiting graduates. Jim Bell said student satisfaction is the best reflection on the program’s quality.
“There’s a feel-good factor when you see people who have been out of work earn their licenses, which leads them to good jobs and helps them provide for their families,” he said. “When companies tell us how well-prepared our students are, we fully realize the impact that College of DuPage and the CDL program is making on people’s lives.”
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