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March 22, 2021

Language learners are on the road to success

A unique partnership between Johnson County Community College’s (JCCC) Continuing Education Transportation program and Johnson County Adult Education’s (JCAE) Literacy program puts newly trained truck drivers on the road to success. The initiative helps non-native English speakers in Johnson County obtain workforce skills in truck driving.

Chris Specht, former Program Coordinator of Accelerating Opportunity: Kansas at JCCC, began laying the groundwork back in 2017. Thanks to the combined effort of many at the College, the program officially launched in Summer 2020.

“The collaboration between the CDL training class and JCAE’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program is changing the lives of non-native speakers so they can get high-wage, high-demand jobs in the transportation industry,” said Josh Smith, Program Director in Continuing Education at JCCC.

Truck drivers’ benefits usually include health insurance, paid time off, and great starting pay. First-year drivers can earn $50,000 a year, and some earn more than $60,000. 

Spanning the Globe

All classes through JCAE are taught in English. Students come from all over the world; in fact, over 50 languages are spoken.

Five students have already earned their CDL permits and passed the theory part of the testing. The additional ESL instructor resource has certainly helped them excel. They will test for the CDL-A licenses by the end of April and will complete their ESL classes in mid-May.

Each can look forward to an exciting career in the trucking industry. “These five students have the highest class average on the theory portion of testing of any prior CDL class at JCCC,” said Smith.

The students are from Algeria, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, and Somalia. They have a range of educational backgrounds. Despite their differences, they have one thing in common: None had experience driving a commercial truck or even a manual transmission before this program.

In addition to the demands of the program, each student works a full-time job or supports their family full time. At least one student supports family overseas, and one had household family members fall ill with COVID-19 while completing theory classes. Program participant Ronal Cruz had to request time off work when his coursework got too demanding, but he remains committed to accomplishing his career goal. “If you want something good, you have to make sacrifices. The good things do not come easy,” he said.

Despite bumps in the road, these students are in it for the long haul. They are committed to learning truck driving skills, regulations, processes and best practices—all in English, a language none of them grew up speaking. “They’re dedicated, hardworking, and have accomplished so much," Smith said.

Road Map to Success

To explore how JCCC’s CDL program could put you on the road to success, visit jccc.edu/cdl.