Worth your time?

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Updated Nov 15, 2017

We’re going to start this month’s column by rewinding back to another piece I wrote last year.

Last February I wrote in this space about ‘California’s Education Revolution,’ an incredible community initiative in central California to develop a comprehensive education and career development program for medium- and heavy-duty diesel truck technicians.

I first learned about the program at Service Opportunities and Learning Days (SOLD) 2016 before Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week (HDAW), where a panel of educators and community activists from the greater Fresno, Calif., area discussed their efforts to fight trucking’s technician shortage by creating a robust career development path for area youth.

The commitment and enthusiasm of the panel was encouraging. California’s Central Valley is home to one of America’s largest agricultural and manufacturing regions. The area is flush with trucks, and dealers and service centers dot the landscape in all directions for hundreds of miles.

It’s an area where the technician shortage has been particularly damaging. But it’s also an area that’s committed to fighting back.

With three high schools and a college now set to debut National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) accredited and ASE certified medium- and heavy-duty diesel programs next year, I’m excited for all involved to begin reaping the benefits of their work — one of the most encouraging, cooperative community-based programs I’ve ever seen.

I get the impression they’re excited, too.

“We want our program to be one of the best in the country, and we think it’s going to be one of the best in the country,” says Mike Betts, chairman and CEO at Betts Company, a leading activist throughout his region’s revolution. “We want to make a difference for our entire community.”

After chatting with Betts late last month, I think that goal has already been achieved. The program coming to the Central Valley is spectacular.

Betts says the Fresno, Madera and Clovis unified school districts will each debut medium- and heavy-duty diesel programs next year along with nearby Reedley College, which has long featured an agricultural curriculum but is new to trucking. Additionally, Betts says Fresno’s own Duncan Polytechnical High School, a “100 percent career technical school,” is likely to feature a late-night curriculum for students and already employed local technicians to earn additional certifications above ASE base requirements.

And that’s just in the class room. Betts says his group also has reached an agreement with the local workforce development board to offer paid summer internships to students who have success-fully completed a high school program and enrolled in a college program.

“We’re trying to build the pipeline where the next generation student quickly gets connected to opportunities and employment,” he says. “We want there to be a relationship there, so when the student graduates they can move right in [to the workforce].”

Betts and his colleagues are optimistic. With total buy-in from the school districts and local industry, student interest is exploding. Each program is likely to debut at near capacity, and area service centers are actively following the progress of the program to see when they can begin hiring the locally developed talent.

The early success has motivated Betts to share Central Valley’s blueprint throughout the trucking industry. What’s happening in Fresno is extraordinary, not unrepeatable, he says.

“A lot of people think this can’t or won’t ever happen where they are. They need to go through an epiphany moment,” Betts says. “They need to understand it can happen, and they can be a part of it.

“This could happen across the nation,” he adds. “If you commit to it, you can still do things like this.”

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