HCT Truck

Willie Keenan, from the CSKT Natural Resource Department, Suzane Palmer, from the CSKT Property & Supply, Dennis Talbott, Department Head of Highway Construction Training at SKC, Randy Ashley, Air Quality Program Manager from the Natural Resource Department, and Dustin Bennett, truck driving instructor at SKC, show off Salish Kootenai College's brand new semi truck.

The arrival of the first of four trucks is a major milestone for the program, which aims to and provide students with necessary technical skills for entry-level employment in the highway construction industry.

PABLO — Salish Kootenai College’s Highway Construction Training program (HCT) has received a significant boost with the arrival of a new heavy-duty truck, the first of four, after a two-year delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a major milestone for the program, as it marks the first time it has had new trucks. The trucks play a crucial role in the students’ training and education.

The Indian Tribe Trust, established as part of the Volkswagen Diesel Emission Environmental Trust for Indian Tribe Beneficiaries, provided the funding for the new vehicles. The initiative was created after Volkswagen falsified results on emission tests for Clean Air Act standards. The settlement funds are being utilized to replace old, high-emitting diesel vehicles and generators with new, cleaner models, or to install electric vehicle charging stations.

According to Northern Arizona University (NAU), the Volkswagen cars emitted up to 40 times the legal limit for air pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen (NOx) during normal driving conditions, which can be detrimental to both the environment and human health. As part of the penalty, a significant portion of the fine paid by Volkswagen to the US government was allocated to fund state and tribal mitigation projects aimed at reducing NOx emissions in other areas. This initiative aimed to compensate for the excessive pollution produced by the cars and essentially reverse the damage to air quality caused by Volkswagen’s fraudulent activities.

Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes received $400,000 from the Volkswagen Tribal Trust Settlement in November 2020, which was used to replace old vehicles with new ones. 

Salish Kootenai College was the only tribal entity with diesel engines that conferred with the Natural Resource Department’s Air Quality Program Manager, Randy Ashley, and as a result, the HCT program will receive four new vehicles. The first of these vehicles is a white manual semi, and the remaining three will arrive soon. The installation of electric vehicle charging stations is also planned for various locations in the community. Overall, this initiative aims to reduce NOx emissions, contributing to a cleaner energy future with reduced dependence on fossil fuels.

Dennis Talbott, the department head for the HCT program, is excited about the new trucks for the program.

The SKC HCT program is an excellent opportunity for those interested in pursuing a career in truck driving or heavy equipment operation. The program is designed to provide students with the necessary technical skills, knowledge, and competency to obtain entry-level employment as truck drivers or heavy equipment operators in the highway construction industry.

Upon completion of the program, students receive a certificate of completion and industry-recognized credentials, including heavy equipment operation certification by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), a Class A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with endorsements for Tank, Double-triple Trailer, and Hazardous Materials, OSHA-10 hour safety training delivered by an OSHA-authorized trainer, and Flagging Certification.

“There is more to it than just driving,” said Talbott. The HCT program provides not only classroom instruction but also hands-on training using driving simulators to expose students to various driving scenarios and help them learn different gear shift patterns they need to know before training outside the classroom in real trucks like the new one just received. Additionally, the program offers heavy equipment simulators to train students in heavy equipment operation.

The HCT program spans nine months, and in the third quarter, students can take advantage of employment opportunities as long as they are relevant to their completion certificates and industry-recognized credential programs of study

The HCT program at SKC is designed to meet the new federal requirements for entry-level driver training, which started in February of 2022. Although Montana is currently non-compliant, according to Talbott, SKC is ensuring that their students are prepared and trained to meet the new requirements. 

During the spring semester, HCT students participate in non-profit projects, primarily with tribal entities. These projects include doing work for the CSKT elders program, and the cities of Ronan and Polson. The program has a tribal and community-based focus, and job opportunities are available for graduates, particularly for tribal members who can work in their backyards and earn good salaries. 

Talbott mentioned that the majority of students in the program are tribal members and have the advantage of working in their own community due to the current amount of construction projects happening in the area. 

“Many companies are actively recruiting our graduates,” Talbott added, as there is a high demand for workers in the highway construction industry

Students of all ages, including retirees, participate in the HCT program. The program provides students with the necessary technical skills and competency to obtain employment as truck drivers or heavy equipment operators in the highway construction industry. Talbott is available to answer any questions about the HCT program and can be contacted at 406-675-4016 or by email at Dennis_talbott@skc.edu.

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