Friday, May 14, 2021

Hitting the road to success

by TOM GREENE/Special to The Press
| September 20, 2020 1:00 AM

The U.S. is in a state of transition. Jobs are changing. Some jobs are adapting to the realities of the pandemic. Some are becoming obsolete.

The ability to adjust with the job market is critical now more than ever, said Mitzi Michaud, North Idaho College Workforce Training and Community Education coordinator.

“You have to be willing to pivot and embrace that change,” Michaud said. “I want people to know there are options. There are solid jobs and meaningful work for those open to it. There is hope.”

Oscar Garcia, 48, was looking for a change last year. He worked as a subcontractor in Montana before moving to Coeur d’Alene and was frustrated with the construction industry.

“It was always a challenge to find reliable people,” Garcia said.

Having served in the U.S. military, Garcia went to Veterans Affairs for job advice. The more he learned about driving trucks, the more it appealed to him.

“It was a vocation where I didn’t have to rely on anyone other than myself. I wanted to be independent. I didn’t want my success to depend on anyone else,” Garcia said.

Earning a Commercial Driver’s License checked all the boxes.

Garcia also appreciated variety in a job and, with small children, didn’t want to be on the road too much. Trucking jobs are available at the local level, as well as the national level. He was able to secure a job that brought him home every night.

“I entertained the idea of going back to school, but thought ‘I don’t have four years.’ I’ve got two kids, and bills, and I need to get back to work fast,” Garcia said. “In a relatively short amount of time, I was able to get back into the workforce with a solid job and a company that trades nationally on the stock market.”

The NIC Workforce Training Center CDL Class A training includes 160 hours of theory, behind-the-wheel experience, range and observation. Students can have their CDL within a month. From there, they can operate a commercial truck anywhere in the U.S.

“We train these guys to be safe, successful, employable drivers,” said CDL instructor Josh Munderloh.

NIC has partnered with the Drive509 CDL school based in Spokane. CDL courses can be taught either in North Idaho or Spokane. Munderloh was recently teaching several students how to parallel park a big rig in Hayden.

“After they get that down, we come up with more scenarios,” Munderloh said. “We want to challenge these guys to be the best they can be.”

The students were taking the course for an assortment of reasons: variety, travel, increased earnings topped the list. One worked in customer service. Another had been laid off from a company and wanted to try something new. Another was complementing his crane operator’s license with a CDL to make more money and increase his employment value.

“I wanted to create some opportunities and improve my income to provide a different lifestyle for my family,” said Henry Katasse, 49, of Plummer. “I had more to offer. I couldn’t see myself doing what I was doing long-term.”

Financial assistance is available for those worried about paying for the course, Michaud said. Oftentimes students qualify for assistance they didn’t know existed. Some truck driving companies offer tuition reimbursement.

“That’s what the NIC Workforce Training Center is here for,” Michaud said. “We want to give you the tools to succeed. Financial assistance is a part of that.”

For Garcia, “It’s a no-brainer,” he said.

“It’s just a great program,” Garcia said. “It may sound cliché, or cheesy, but it’s true. It can change your life for the better.”

For more information on the CDL program at the NIC Workforce Training Center, call 208-769-3333 or visit


Photo by TOM GREENE/North Idaho College

Bruce Nordstrom (foreground), of Coeur d’Alene, learns gear shifting in the cab from North Idaho College/Drive509 CDL Instructor Josh Munderloh. Wearing masks while inside the cab allows the course to be taught safely and in accordance with state guidelines.