CBC invests in simulator for truck-driving program

The No. 1 job needed in the area is truck driving.

That’s what Janese Thatcher, Columbia Basin College’s dean for Computer Science, Engineering and Technical Programs, said she recently learned when looking at the top jobs that companies were hiring for in Benton and Franklin counties.

“People running many companies in this area said their greatest need is truck drivers. That’s because the current work force is aging,” Thatcher said.

That’s why CBC has invested in a $111,000 full motion truck simulator to help with the training. Columbia Distributing’s Kennewick branch kicked in $10,000 toward the purchase.

“There is a huge need for this kind of investment,” said Columbia Distributing’s Kent Nelson, a general manager with the company who presented CBC with the check on Jan. 26.

CBC and Columbia Distributing also are working to create recruitment, training and professional development opportunities for students. That includes holding classes on-site at Columbia Distributing to engage in real-world distributor operations.

The college’s Commercial Driver’s License certification program ended in 2009, but was revived last fall.

“We have eight students in our night class, and in the day class we have 10,” Thatcher said. “Right now, we can have as many as 12 students in each class. Night class is a great option. It’s 22 weeks for people who have full-time jobs. The cost of getting a CDL is $3,500. That includes the permits and the tests.”

Program instructor Bud Stephens says the school has access to two semi-trucks.

But students will be able to get more seat time with the new simulator.

As an added bonus, Thatcher said the simulator will be made available to the public when it comes to driving a recreational vehicle for the first time. 

Stephens recently demonstrated the simulator, sitting in a driver’s seat and looking at three separate screens – a head-on view and two side-mirror windows.

“This can bring up a lot of different scenarios,” Stephens said, who demonstrated windy conditions while driving in an urban environment. 

Numerous cars are seen driving by and around the big rig.

“This simulator has an 18-speed transmission,” he said. “There is one mode to double clutch. Many of our tests are with 10-speed transmissions.”

Each time a student drives a certain segment, the simulator will provide statistics of the good and bad things the driver has done.

“Anything you do that is a fail or unsafe, you fail for that segment,” Stephens said. “You hit the cross line, it’ll disqualify you for running the stop light.”

The student won’t be failed for the course, however. They can continue to practice until they pass that segment of the course.

Virginia Tomlinson, CBC’s vice president of instruction, was impressed with the simulator.

“We’re preparing students for jobs that already exist,” she said. “This machine can simulate just about every environmental factor on the road.”

And one of the biggest factors of using the simulator is safety, Thatcher said.

“This gives students training situations and practice without using fuel or damaging trucks,” she said.

Many studies have confirmed that up to 80 percent of collision incidents result from making poor decisions, officials said.

Using the simulator transfers well into reality, Stephens said. And that’s good, because the final test involves driving an actual semi-truck.

“It’s a seamless transition (from using the simulator to driving an 18-wheeler),” he said. “The backing maneuvers are very realistic. There are none like this simulator anywhere else.” 

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