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Northeastern High School's CDL program launches fundraiser York Dispatch

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Northeastern High School driver's education students have the opportunity to learn not just how to drive, but how to build a career.

Chad Forry, a driver's ed instructor for more than 20 years, saw a need both in the transportation industry and for students looking for alternate career routes.

He said he realized they could help each other.

With the school's commercial driver's license (CDL) class — the first of its kind offered in a public high school in the state — students can get a head start on the training they need for jobs in the field.

"Not every kid can go to college," Forry said.

And for those who are taking a gap year or looking to pay for their education with a summer job, he said, the positions available in transportation pay $17 to $18 an hour.

Fulfilling a need: D.R.I.V.E, or Driving Resources, Innovation and Vehicular Education, began as an elective class taught by Forry last year.

It started with 16 students, and it launched its second year Wednesday, Sept. 12, with almost twice as many. Forry said he hopes to bump the number up to 45 next year.

Nationally, there is a driver shortage in the trucking industry — 50,000 openings at the end of 2017, Forry said, with the number expected to double or triple in the next three to four years.

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"I could bring 1,000 kids in just this area and they would all get jobs immediately, and there would still be a shortage," he added.

"I hit a need that needs to be addressed, and people are responding," Forry noted, adding that local businesses donated more than $30,000 for the class before it even started this year, thanks in part to a new partnership with the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association (PMTA).

The organization approached Forry last spring after the first year of the program to help connect employers with students. Now he's a board member of the local chapter.

In Pennsylvania, it's "a need that has not been addressed by any schools at the high school level — unless there’s one I don’t know about," Forry said, noting that other states, such as California, have similar programs.

Students in Pennsylvania cannot drive commercial vehicles until they're 21, but the training gives them a foot in the door.

For example, they can work as a mechanic, in logistics, on a dock or in forklift management — and there's a lot of movement within the industry, which gives them the chance to find out what they like or don't like, Forry said.

The class has already seen several success stories.

Colby Boose was given the "turnaround student" award for getting a job at Estes Express Lines as a dock worker running the forklift, and senior Mark Shearer worked for Keystone Trailer Services this summer, and "he just loved it," Forry said.

Michael Wagner, a 2018 graduate, is going to Penn State for engineering and plans to use his degree to work on truck design, including automated driving.

The industry has "so many options," Forry said.

York is a 'hub': And with the county central to major highways such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstates 83 and 81, York has plenty of jobs to go around.

"This is a hub," Forry said.

Within 50 miles, he said there are probably 100 trucking companies or companies that work on trucks.

In the class, students have the opportunity to connect with PMTA members and other local businesses, and they go on two site visits to partner companies — which is important, Forry says, because sometimes kids can't see themselves working there until they see it in person.

Just having a tour gives them a better sense of what workers do there, he said.

Misconceptions: One of the reasons trucking and other transportation jobs might have fallen out of favor over the years, Forry said, is that they used to be branded as overnight jobs with long hours.

But the manner of work has changed significantly, he said.

Many jobs have regular eight- to 10-hour shifts or offer schedules where workers are off three days a week and are home every night.

Overnight jobs still exist, but they're not the only ones, he added.

Another reason for the lack of workers is the focus on higher education as the best pathway for students.

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"The education department has been stressing 'college, college, college,'" Forry said, but technical fields provide the option to make a lot of money without a college degree or give kids the opportunity to go back to school later.

However, Forry admitted, the test for a CDL has gotten harder, which could be another deterrence. 

Northeastern is supportive: "The school district is very supportive," Forry said, noting that a nonprofit, The Northeastern Foundation, was created to aid in funding the class.

This year, Forry hopes to purchase a new commercial-grade simulator, comparing the class' current simulator to an outdated video game.

To finance the $115,000 equipment, the foundation will need to apply for grants from banks and local businesses as well as state school-to-work grants, and it will rely on donations from area sponsors.

"It's a long process," he said, adding that his goal is to have the simulator by the spring.

Forry also will be trained in forklift operation so he can offer a certification to students this year — a skill that will look good on resumes and help them move up through a company faster, even if only for a summer job.

His future goal for the class is to have internships, which students could complete alongside their studies.

And Forry also hopes other schools will mimic the program.

With mass budget cuts from the state about a decade ago, many schools in the region have stopped offering driver's ed classes, he said, but starting a class with company partnerships could potentially save some of these programs.

"What it comes down to is what’s best for the kids," Forry said. "That's the reason I'm doing this." 

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