Maryland's Garrett College expands truck driver training program

MCHENRY, Md. — A community college in Maryland is expanding its truck driver training program.

According to a news release, Garrett College (GC) has added driving simulators and was recently approved as a state testing site for Class A and B licensure.

The two simulators — obtained through a $236,000 Rural Maryland Economic Development Fund grant — have proven to be valuable additions to the truck driving program, according to Donna Bittinger, GC’s coordinator of workforce development.

“The simulators allow us to teach proper shifting, double-clutching and situational awareness before putting students on the road,” Bittinger said. “This technology makes for a safer student.”

Richard Kyer, one of the school’s three truck driving instructors at GC’s Mountaintop Truck Driving Institute at the Northern Outreach Center (NOC), said the simulators are “a great teaching tool.”

Brexton Weyant, a current Class B truck driving student, said the simulators were instrumental in helping him learn how to drive.

The simulators — built by Canada-based Virage Simulation — can mimic a wide variety of driving conditions and challenging road situations. During one test simulation recently, Bittinger introduced snow, oncoming vehicular traffic and a deer crossing the highway into the simulation mix.

Bittinger said there is also a fiscal upside to employing the simulators.

“This is the perfect way for a new student with no truck-driving knowledge to figure it all out without actually burning up a clutch,” she said, adding, “These trucks are not cheap to fix.”

Bittinger said Garrett College annually serves approximately 40 Class A students — those seeking licensure to drive tractor trailers — and another 15 seeking Class B dump truck licensure. The Class A course takes 7½ weeks to complete while the Class B program consists of six full-day class sessions.

The college also offers a CDL refresher course for individuals with Class B licensure and the ability to drive a manual-shift truck who wish to obtain a Class A license.

“The demand for truck drivers is still pretty high,” said Bittinger, who noted starting pay for drivers is generally between $21 and $25 an hour. “A lot of local employers are looking for Class B operators, especially this time of year when a lot of companies want people to plow snow. Some of our bigger employers — like Dot Foods, Schneider, Werner, and W.S. Thomas — come here to recruit Class A truck drivers.”

Bittinger said the college is fortunate to have three permanent instructors — Kyer, Dale Sgaggero and Mike Smith — with decades of practical truck-driving experience.

“Our instructors have well over a hundred years of experience in trucking,” said Bittinger, whose instructor staff also includes part-time, weekend instructor Frank Sgaggero.

Bittinger noted that “nearly all of our students qualify for some type of financial assistance.” She said the Western Maryland Consortium and West Virginia Workforce play a key funding role for GC’s workforce programs.

Garrett College’s certification as a Class A and Class B testing site is another recent enhancement to the college’s truck-driving program. The college employs two experienced testers in Josh Custer and Dennis Rodeheaver.

“Our approval as a testing site means our students are able to train where they will test,” Bittinger said. “It’s also made testing options more flexible for our students.”

Serving as a testing site has also strengthened the college’s relationship with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, according to Bittinger.

“The MVA has been very supportive of our move into testing,” she said. “If I have a question, all I have to do is call them up and I usually have the answer within minutes.”

Truck driving isn’t the only workforce training program at the NOC employing simulation technology. The college’s HVAC and electrical programs both use simulators for instruction.

“The HVAC and electrical simulators can be programmed to malfunction and students must identify the problem,” explained Bittinger.

The NOC has been at its present site — 12601 National Pike, which was originally a Garrett County Roads Garage — since 2011. While predominantly known for its workforce training, the NOC also offers piano instruction through Dr. Sean Beachy, and a wide range of continuing education courses.

For more Commercial Truck Driving program information contact Bittinger at (301) 387-3750 or click here.

Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.


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