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Will start with a locally-based truck driving course in mid-April with other courses to follow as needed

PHOTO COURTESY OF BAKER TECHNICAL INSTITUTE - A Baker Technical Institute student spends time in a truck driving simulatorPrineville will soon be gaining a technical school to help boost the local trade sector workforce.

Last week, Baker Technical Institute (BTI) announced it is expanding from its main campus in Baker City to provide career and technical training in Prineville. Beginning next month, BTI will begin offering Central Oregon residents access to career and technical training with the intent of helping businesses grow by increasing the population of skilled workers employed in trades ranging from construction and high-tech jobs.

The announcement follows BTI's recent approval and licensure from the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to begin offering career and technical training in Prineville.  

"Prineville City Manager Steve Forrester, the Shelk Foundation and other local partners had the vision to bring a technical school to the area and connected us with regional employers who shared the need to develop a pool of highly skilled, licensed workforce," said BTI President Doug Dalton.

Dalton recalled one early meeting in particular where Forrester had brough in leaders from multiple industries, including high-tech, truck driving, construction and health care, as well as leaders from local health care and the Crook County School District.

"We had a huge meeting and really just sat and listened," he said.

Industries leaders talked about their needs and what training gaps they saw and asked BTI leaders how they could help.

Founded in 2014, BTI focuses on providing a low-cost, efficient and rapid path to gaining valuable career skills in high-demand industries. According to Dalton, creating partnerships with regional employers and industry experts to design, build and teach BTI's curriculum of career pathway programs is key.

Historically, BTI has offered mobile training programs in communities throughout Oregon and other neighboring states. They travel to a location, complete a program, then move on to another location.

But in Prineville, they will maintain a more permanent presence. BTI will utilize locations in the Prineville area for its courses and as one training need is satisfied, it will offer classes locally to address other needs.

"We are going to start hiring an employee base here. We will have support staff here eventually for recurring, ongoing training to the extent that the demand exists," Dalton said. "If the demand over time keeps growing, if this thing takes off in a big way and we need a facility, we will address that concern."

Kelsey Lucas, Prineville Area Director for Economic Development for Central Oregon, praised the recent development in the Crook County community.

"This is an incredible opportunity for Prineville and the region to train local talent, attract new talent for these nationally recognized courses, and tailor specialized training for our existing industries and companies," she said. "The hands-on approach implemented by Baker Technical Institute complements the emphasis that the Crook County School District has placed on interactive and practical learning that can be applied across various industries through their Career and Technical Education (CTE) program." 

Dalton said one of the biggest challenges facing employers is the shortage of qualified truck drivers. According to the American Trucking Association, when accounting for both industry growth and replacing drivers leaving their jobs, either from retirement or other reasons, the industry will need nearly 1.1 million new drivers over the coming decade or just under 110,000 per year on average. 

BTI has worked with an advisory board of industry leaders throughout Oregon and the Professional Truck Driving Institute to understand better the demand for drivers and what skills employers need now and in the future. This has resulted in a truck driving school built and designed to be the highest quality school anywhere.

In April, BTI will offer a truck driving and logistics course to help the local industry address a shortage of drivers. The four-week hands-on training will provide the necessary training for individuals to get their commercial driver's license (CDL).  

"In today's transportation industry, there is a continuous shortage of truck drivers," said Scott Porfily, president of Western Heavy Haul and a BTI advisory board member. "I'm excited about BTI and its approach to a quality hands-on program that will not be just another CDL school. It is a real-life solution for a real-life problem."

In addition to trucking, heavy equipment operation emerged as a top need locally, so BTI plans to offer a training program in that field at some point in the near future.

"The plan in general is to bring other programs we have here as they are needed," Dalton said, noting that future programs could include health care and high tech.

Forrester said the partnership with BTI gives people opportunities they've never had before. "Being able to build a workforce and support the companies that have been operating not only in Prineville but the entire region is critical to having a thriving economy," he said.


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