WEST VALLEY CITY — A local trucking firm "put its money where its mouth is" after making a major contribution to a statewide education program aimed at developing talent for the state's growing transportation industry.
Kenworth Sales Thursday announced a $400,000 donation to the Diesel Tech Pathways program at Salt Lake Community College’s new Westpointe Center. The funding will be used for scholarships, equipment and facility upgrades for the diesel technology program, Salt Lake Community College President Deneece Huftalin said.
"Hopefully, as we start to grow the program, we'll start to connect with other donors and try to continue to get more scholarships (for students)," she said. "As demand grows and we need to incentivize more students, we'll try to strengthen our scholarship numbers."
The new lab at Westpointe will be named in honor of Kenworth Sales Co. as an acknowledgment of the firm's investment in the program, she noted.
The sizeable gift was donated to address "a looming crisis" that exists in the trucking industry, said Kenworth Sales President Kyle Treadway.
"It's a national crisis and we all have to step up and invest significant dollars," he said. "(The investment) is good for the community, it's good for our company and it's good for the industry.
He noted that there is a nationwide lack of skilled technicians needed to service the more than 3.6 million trucks that are on the roads of America every day.
"Right now today, I would hire 40 technicians if I could find them, but I can't find them," he said. "What happens by not hiring them is I'm not getting the work done, my customers are waiting, freight is not moving and the economy is not progressing as it should."
He said the donation should serve as an example to others in the transportation and trucking industry that significant investments must be made if the issue of skilled diesel tech talent is to be sufficiently addressed in the near- to medium-term future. He said the industry is expected to lose thousands of technicians over the next few years, due in part because fewer young people are choosing to pursue diesel technology as a career.
But technology has advanced so greatly, he said, that the opportunities for new technicians to carve out a strong, well-paying career have grown dramatically.
"These (trucks) are computers on wheels," he said. "This is sophisticated, challenging work that pays very well."
He added that trained, journeyman technicians can earn six-figure salaries. He also said that diversity is a high priority in the diesel tech field.
"We want women, we want immigrants and people who are making a career change," Treadway said. "We need a larger pool to draw from."
In December, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development announced the expansion of the Utah Diesel Tech Pathways program to include the Alpine, Nebo and Provo school districts in addition to Mountainland Technical College and Utah Valley University joining the program.
Along with the new school districts, Geneva Rock and sister companies W.W. Clyde & Co. and Sunroc signed on with the program’s 11 existing industry partners to support and train students.
Launched in 2016, the program has served approximately 120 students in the Jordan and Canyons school districts who are enrolled in the required curriculum.
The Diesel Tech Pathways program is designed to offer Utah students a straight route from high school and college to the workforce. The program begins in high school with the completion of select classes, then upon graduation students will complete an internship with one of the diesel tech industry partners, followed by at least a year of training at one of the secondary education partners.
The program is part of Gov. Gary Herbert's Talent Ready Utah initiative to improve the state's education system and workforce by concentrating on growing and enhancing job-training strategies to meet industry needs for more qualified workers.
The goal of the program is to fill 40,000 high-skill, high-paying jobs by 2020, explained Kimberlee Carlile, director of industry and talent initiatives with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.