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TCC partnership aids ports

Smooth and efficient operations at the Port of Virginia facilities in Hampton Roads can be hindered by any number of factors — from weather to work stoppages.

But a partnership between the ports and Tidewater Community College means there will be one less potential efficiency-sapping problem in the future.

TCC’s Center for Workforce Solutions in North Suffolk has partnered with the Port of Virginia to help some of the agency’s employees at Norfolk International Terminals obtain their commercial driver’s licenses, and officials hope to expand the partnership in the fall.

An aging workforce and lack of commercial truck drivers prompted the Port of Virginia to reach out to the local community for alternatives. Tidewater Community College was selected because of its prominent commercial driver’s license program.

“There was difficulty finding drivers to move materials outside of the port because of the lack of trained CDL drivers,” said Shaina Yowell, a customized training solutions specialist at TCC.

In particular, the ports needed CDL-certified drivers within its crane-operation, facility maintenance and vehicle maintenance divisions.

“We are saving a lot of time and money already,” Port of Virginia training instructor Dona Circelli stated in a press release from the school. “Although these people are not necessarily driving a big-rig every single day, when we do need that piece of equipment moved or need to transport some materials to a different port, it makes it so much easier and cost effective to have employees ready and able to do so.”

Previously the port was forced to hire third-party drivers to do those jobs, which proved time-consuming and costly.

Six port employees were selected to begin CDL training in February. The port required the students to receive Class A licenses, which would certify them to operate all vehicles on-site, including vehicles weighing or towing over 26,001 pounds and vehicles carrying hazardous materials.

The course was condensed from eight weeks of instruction to 40 hours to get the students licensed as soon as possible. The students received hands-on training and completed supplementary homework assignments.

Despite the quick turnaround, all six students passed their CDL exams in April, and all are Class A-licensed commercial drivers.

“There was an almost immediate return on investment,” Yowell said.

Due to the program’s success, TCC has considered various options moving forward.

The college is looking to continue its accelerated CDL courses with the Port of Virginia in late summer or early fall, according to Yowell.

In addition, TCC has considered expanding the accelerated CDL course to open enrollment. Essentially, the program would be offered as a course at the college. But the different proficiency levels among potential students could cause problems, she said.

Corey McGray, vice president for TCC Workforce Solutions, said the college is also looking into starting up training for other licensing programs outside of CDL.

Overall, the CDL program was a success, and both TCC and the Port of Virginia are looking forward to collaborating again in the near future.

“We are thrilled with this pilot program for Workforce Solutions to run CDL training in a customized setting,” Yowell stated in the press release. “Thanks to everyone’s determination and enthusiasm, we could not have asked for a better outcome.”