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From what I have seen recently, training to operate heavy equipment or driving a truck can look to be fun. Those training for those jobs at places such as Caterpillar Inc. and Lake Land College start off on what amounts to large, expensive video games. But the simulators serve practical purposes, reducing the amount of time needed to train on the road. Doing so can promote safety and not tie up equipment for longer than necessary.

A simulator is used to train truck drivers at the Lake Land Workforce Development Center in Mattoon. CDL training coordinator Gary Finch said it has become an essential part of the program, which has been able to add more instructors in the past 5 years as demand for the courses has increased. Finch gave members of the No Job Left Behind coalition a demonstration of the equipment Thursday during a tour of the facility.

Upon request, he started with honking the horn on the simulator's steering wheel. The simulator is designed to give new and seasoned drivers a feel for what it's like to be on the road, Finch said. Various scenarios can be practiced, from driving in heavy traffic to difficult weather conditions like rain and snow and in mountains, which can be found nowhere near Illinois. Two days on the simulator can amount to a week on the road, he said. Certain scenarios shouldn't be practiced on the open road, either, so Finch said the simulator can provide students with the opportunity to learn and feel exactly what will happen should something like the brakes on the truck go out. He said the simulator has been worth every dime spent on it.

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The truck driving program is just one of the ways Lake Land is working with area businesses to provide the training their workers need both before and while working for them. The No Job Left Behind initiative, which started in Sullivan and has steadily expanded its reach since November. It is trying to link businesses with educational partners, including community colleges and high schools. Among its efforts, a skills gap survey has been sent out to businesses in Moultrie, Douglas and Coles counties, said Stepheny McMahon, Sullivan Chamber and Economic Development director. Results are expected in the next month or so and plans are being developed to extend the survey across a larger area next year, she said.

So far, Sullivan, Shelbyville, Okaw Valley, Windsor and Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond schools have joined the efforts. Students have been able to tour area businesses and see what opportunities might be in their future, McMahon said. Businesses including MasterBrand Cabinets, Mid-State Tank, Hydro-Gear, Caterpillar, Agri-Fab, Marvin Keller Trucking and Mason Point have or plan to open their doors to students for tours. The Sullivan Chamber worked with the Eastern Illinois Education for Employment office to launch the initiative, McMahon said. She said students need to see that college isn't the only path to a successful career and area businesses can benefit from getting young students interested in manufacturing-related jobs.

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​clusvardi@herald-review.com|(217) 421-7972

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