MOSES LAKE - Big Bend Community College's commercial driver's license program helps the state economy and they have the award to prove it.
Big Bend's Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) commercial driver's license (CDL) program was awarded the Governor's 2011 Best Practice Award.
The Governor's Best Practice Awards recognize programs and projects creating new jobs and economic activity in the state while helping train Washington workers so they can gain employment and a living wage.
Big Bend's I-BEST CDL program puts two instructors to work: one teaching professional and technical content and one teaching basic reading, math and language skills.
"By introducing our unemployed to companies seeking new talent, we're helping our economic recovery two-fold," said Gov. Chris Gregoire. "We're putting the unemployed back to work, while ensuring companies have the workforce needed to succeed and expand."
Big Bend's program was one of four recognized by Gregoire in 2011, and was the only community college program recognized, said Sandy Cheek, director of basic skills at Big Bend.
Many students in BBCC's commercial driver's license program are low-skilled, Spanish-speaking agricultural workers. Classes meet three nights a week and all day Saturday and Sunday for 10 weeks, allowing students to continue working as they prepare for their new careers.
Students completing the program have a 98 percent pass rate on the CDL exam and nearly all of them find trucking jobs.
Average annual earnings of students who complete the program exceed $27,000, a 40 percent increase from their previous wages. Even during a recession, there is tremendous demand for graduates, Cheek said
Raul Reyes, of Warden, enrolled in the program in 2009 after struggling to find work. He went into the program not knowing a thing about commercial truck driving, he said.
"They showed us so much, everything you need to know about driving," he said. "They worked real hard with us. They did everything they could for everyone in the class to succeed."
Not a month after completing the class, Reyes found work driving a truck for a client in Royal City, he said. Soon after that, he landed a job hauling fertilizer for J.R. Simplot.
"It helped me tremendously," he said. "If it wasn't for this class here, I don't know what I would be doing."
The program was launched in 2004 with federal adult basic education and workforce development grants from the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges and was later refined with money from a High Demand Workforce Development Grant.
Many local employers, especially in agriculture and food processing, need drivers to move products and raw materials, said Cheek.
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
"The program really does take a village to move forward and we have tremendous support both from the community and from employers and our partners," said Cheek. "And it feels extremely gratifying to have our hard work recognized by the governor."