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Partners: Kentwood donates truck to help GRCC Public Works Academy boost training for municipal careers

July 19, 2021, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Students in Grand Rapids Community College’s Public Works Academy gain hands-on experience preparing for rewarding careers in area municipalities -- a training that just got better through a donation from the City of Kentwood.

Kentwood leaders delivered a 2005 Sterling dump truck with an underbody plow on Monday, which will help students prepare for a variety of roles in the field of public works.

"This donated truck will give GRCC students an opportunity to earn their commercial driver’s license for public works and get experience in the type of truck they will use on the job when they are hired by a municipality or employer who requires that license – our graduates will be ready for work on Day 1,” said Julie Parks interim dean of the School of Workforce Development.  

“The vehicle will also be an important component in recruiting the next generation of public works employees. Our summer public works camp, middle school and high school outreach activities will include the use of the truck.  It will provide another opportunity for students to learn about careers in a vital field."

GRCC’s Public Works Academy launched in 2018 to help local communities fill vitally important jobs. At the time, it was the first municipal workforce training program in Michigan and the third in the nation.

The academy is a partnership that includes public works departments for the cities of Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Grand Haven, in addition to the road commissions from Kent, Muskegon and Van Buren counties, the Michigan Department of Transportation, Prein&Newhof, Rowe Professional Services Co. and the west Michigan chapter of the American Public Works Association.

More than 60 people have graduated from the academy so far, and most have joined the public works field, filling positions that include building specialist, engineering technician, equipment operator, fleet services technician, plant assistant, safety specialist, truck driver, and maintenance worker for utilities, streets, grounds and buildings.

“We are honored to be a partner in this collaborative effort that creates a pathway for residents to stay local and build their careers through essential roles that keep our communities safe and improve quality of life,” Kentwood Mayor Stephen Kepley said. “We wholeheartedly support our donated truck being used to equip the next generation of public works professionals as they gain in-demand skills needed to fill this growing need in our region.”

Students learn from professionals, gaining hands-on experience. Employees from Kentwood and other communities have helped teach courses. Jamie King, Kentwood Fleet Services supervisor, is one of the instructors for the commercial driver’s license component of the program, where the donated truck will play a huge role. Having a CDL is required for most public works positions.

The academy’s CDL component was introduced in 2020 using borrowed equipment from partnering cities. Equipment availability became a challenge, and GRCC and academy partners agreed a used truck in good condition would be useful.

The Sterling dump truck became available when Kentwood’s Department of Public Works replaced it with a new model. The vehicle was previously used for snow plowing and was later repurposed for tree disposal and chipping.

Under normal circumstances, the truck would have been sold at auction. Kentwood leaders determined it would be effective for the Public Works Academy, and the City Commission approved the donation on June 1.

The truck needed minor repairs to its front hood, along with new paint and tires. City leaders approached Truck & Trailer Specialties to get an estimate for body damage and Best-One Fleet Service for the tires. Both companies donated their services and supplies.

The truck will be used for hands-on training of skill maneuvers and vehicle inspections that are required to earn a CDL. GRCC Technical Education Center staff and students will provide ongoing maintenance to the vehicle.

“We are grateful to Truck & Trailer Specialties and Best-One Fleet Service for donating the services and supplies needed to bring this truck up to suitable condition for the Public Works Academy,” King said. “Using the truck as part of their hands-on training will be truly beneficial for the students by helping them gain the skills needed to get their commercial driver’s licenses, which helps open the door for more opportunities in public works.”

The next round of training begins on Oct. 19, 2021, a part-time program running through March 15, 2022 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The next full-time program starts Jan. 11, 2022 and runs through March 2, 2022 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

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