Date: Fri, Jan 27th, 2023

Great Falls College's innovative CDL program celebrates successes

Instructor Jeremy Hitchcock, left, gave people the chance to drive Great Falls College's new simulator for the CDL program at a celebration for 10 graduates and industry partners.

Continuing Education and Training at Great Falls College MSU has helped 10 students obtain their commercial driver’s license with many more well on the way.

The innovative, fast-track program is unique in that it pairs students with industry partners who are looking for drivers, and it also works with employers who would like their current employees to become commercial drivers.

Sarah Swanson, director of strategic engagement in Montana’s Department of Labor and Industry, expressed her enthusiasm for the program at a celebration for industry partners and graduates held at the college earlier this week. She said it is vital that education and industry come together to fill workforce voids and help people gain high-wage jobs.

 “Thanks for showing it can be done,” she told the room full of about 50 graduates, industry partners and community leaders.   

Student drivers begin their education with instructors at Great Falls College both on the state-of-the-art simulator, in the classroom and on a tractor-trailer, and they then work with their industry partner until they have full licensure.

The classroom portion and driving with Great Falls College instructors takes about three weeks and culminates with students obtaining their permit. It is the program’s goal for students to obtain their full license with their industry partner in six months. Some accomplish that much faster, but it varies by student and employer.

“This is a completely unique program in Montana,” said Tammie Hickey, director of Continuing Education and Training at Great Falls College. “And we couldn’t do it without our industry partners. They are vital to the success of the program, and we are always looking for more.”

The program currently has 15 industry partners, including K&K Trucking, Holman Aviation, Warden Paper, United Materials, Meadow Gold, Hi-Line Moving, Minot Builders Supply, Pepsi, Gusto Distributing, JNL Brown Trucking, Midway Rental, Mountain View Co-op, Hi-Noon Petroleum, Sustainable Oils and Great Falls Fire/Rescue.

Those interested in taking the course must attend an informational session to learn details about the program such as application requirements, class format, class schedules and funding opportunities. Registration is not required to attend an informational session. Those sessions are held at both 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on the following days: Feb. 13, March 13, April 10, May 15 and June 12.

“Give yourselves a round of applause,” Dr. Stephanie Erdmann, CEO/dean of Great Falls College, told those attending the celebration. “You’ve been involved in creating one of the most creative solutions to workforce development Montana has seen. I guarantee this model will be used and promoted as best practice to guide industry and education partnerships in the future.”

The average wage for graduates in the program is $21.67 an hour.

A highlight of the event was allowing people to try out the college’s new simulator, which includes three large-screen monitors that wrap around a realistic cockpit to give the driver 180-degree view instead of just straight ahead like video games.

“I thought it was cool,” said Tavie Hitchcock after trying out the simulator. “It was realistic, with the seat and steering wheel moving. And with all of the different monitors, it feels like you are in the truck.”

The simulator was purchased as part of a $388,875 American Rescue Plan Act allocation from Cascade County that also helped with set-up costs for the program.

Sampson Mayer, who recently took the program and is working at Gusto Distributing, was impressed with the program.

“The instructors, Chris (Wheeler) and Jeremy (Hitchcock) are great with all of their experience,” he said.

Mayer also is now working as an instructor assistant in the program.

“Having just taken it, I can help the students with what to expect,” he said.

Those interested in this opportunity can visit the program website or call Continuing Education and Training at 406.771.5104 or email at

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Record Number: 805