Welcome to class. Here's the keys to a big rig. BCCC launches first of its kind trucker education
The massive truck parked at Bucks County Community College’s campus in Bristol Township wasn't there for a delivery. This big rig is part of the curriculum — a supersized classroom on wheels for some special students.
Bucks County Community College is using the tractor trailer for education and economic opportunity for new arrivals to the Delaware Valley. It is the first community college in the country to establish federal training program “Afghan Open Road” for refugees who want to learn to drive and enter the trucking and transportation industry.
While they came to the United States under trying circumstances, when the war in their country ended, participants say they are working to settle here and and get to work.
More truck drivers are needed
Since the pandemic is waning, manufacturing has picked up and more people are shopping online, leading to more deliveries and a greater need for truckers to transport goods across the country.
"Afghan Open Road" is part of the federal Department of Transportation’s “Task Force Movement” initiative to train military spouses and veterans so they can obtain their commercial driving license (CDL) to drive the big rigs to help fill the country’s need for truck drivers.
“The American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates the industry is 80,000 drivers short, fueled by high turnover rates and COVID-19. Those shortages could reach 160,000 by 2030, should current strategies to attract and train new drivers fail,” said Tracy Timby, the college's interim associate vice president for Strategic Partnerships and Workforce Innovation
“According to labor market data, in the five-county area (of Southeastern Pennsylvania) there are 3,645 job postings and only 291 qualified candidates,” she added.
“It’s about opportunity. It’s about the future of America. It’s about making sure America gets back to work,” said Patrick Murphy, the former Congressman from Bristol tapped by President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to lead the federal task force.
BCCC is working to train both veterans and the Afghanis as truck drivers. It has partnered with CC Training, a CDL training firm that works with community colleges to do so. The Afghans in the program are vetted for security clearance, Murphy said.
Murphy stopped at BCCC last week to meet the Afghani student drivers and talk to college President Felicia Ganther about the program geared to their specific needs.
“Bucks County Community College is honored to serve as an educational partner for this effort," Ganther said in an email after meeting Murphy on Thursday. “Assisting the White House with CDL training for Afghans who nobly assisted our troops during the war there is a gesture of our gratitude for the sacrifices they made to keep Americans safe. As the resettled Afghans find a new life here, Bucks is proud to be a part of helping them get this certification so that they may join our local workforce, financially support their families, and settle into a community that they can call home.”
More:After his tour of duty, college gave him a path. Now this vet is helping others go to college in Bucks County
Afghans want to see the country
The program to help the refugees started when David Borek of Doylestown, who operates the trucking placement firm Fluid Shift, met Mohammad Bawar, and his family when they moved to Central Bucks County after coming to the United States in September 2021 as war refugees. He wanted to help Bawar with a job and that led to other Afghanis also wanting to learn how to drive the tractor-trailers once they had a regular driver’s license.
“It was a collective idea,” Borek said. "We’re starting the next step. They’re here to stay. They need good employment opportunities to make money to support their families.”
The first cohort of eight drivers has finished their 162 hours of training and another eight are about to begin. Basharmal Paiwand said the Afghans he knows “all want the CDL licenses” because it can provide them with a good-paying job while allowing them time to learn the English language better.
Anthony Kneisser, an over-the-road truck driver turned CC Training instructor, said that he has visited all 50 states. He hopes his new students will be able to do the same when they receive their CDL, so they can also learn about America.
The Justamere Foundation of Exton is helping to fund the Afghan Open Road program at BCCC with a grant of $224,000. Foundation President Lori Cushman said the foundation’s purpose is “to remove obstacles that keep people from (being) self-sustaining.
"They’re the ones doing the hard work,” she said of the Afghani students.
And while Bucks is the first, seven other states that have taken in refugees are interested in following the pilot program, said Liz Belcaster, of Chicago, who works with Task Force Movement. And the federal government on Jan. 31 issued $3.2 million in grant funding available to community colleges to fund truck driver training for veterans, refugees and underserved communities.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Bucks County Community College is first to train Afghan refugees as truck drivers