Pulling his brand new tractor-trailer truck into the parking lot of Geogia Northwestern Technical College’s Walker County campus, Jeffery Brown, a commercial truck driving graduate, talked with current students of the program about how it changed his life.

“Truck driving saved me,” he told them. “There is a need for good drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), and GNTC will teach you everything you need to know.”

Brown is a convicted felon — something he said has barred him from several jobs since his release. The GNTC alum said he was not sure where to turn until he found the commercial truck driving program and his entire perspective changed.

He reached out to the GNTC Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Program for help paying for classes.

“When I left prison, everything had changed. I didn’t know how to handle the new world,” he said. “I needed help to figure things out.”

According to Gena Williams, WIOA assistant, Brown qualified for program assistance and was able to receive financial aid. Brown said Williams and the WIOA program came to him with help. Because of them he was able to complete his classes and graduate.

“They saw me as a student and not as a felon,” he said. “If we don’t help former felons, they are going to do exactly what they were doing beforehand.”

Work has not stopped despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown said. His cargo varies from food items to pallets of inventory. As a part of the nation’s food supply chain he is an essential worker. Brown currently works for Sierra Express Inc. in Chatsworth and hauls freight across the nation on a regular basis.

“I love driving cross country and seeing what is in each state,” Brown said. “During my trips I get to see mountains, valleys, deserts and oceans. I will be on the Pacific Coast one day and the Gulf Coast a few days later.”

Brown said he wanted to visit GNTC to tell students the benefits of obtaining their CDL. The alum talked about how his company takes care of its employees and recently purchased 70 new tractor-trailer trucks for the drivers.

The company has an open door policy with management, and the owner of the company talks with each driver after they return from a trip.

“They want me out here recruiting future drivers,” said Brown. “They have never held my past against me, and I am so grateful for Sierra Express.”

Even though this was his first trip to visit the commercial truck driving class, Brown still checks in with the WIOA staff, said Williams. He stays in touch through sharing photos of his travels. Williams said she is proud of the hard work he has put in and his success as a truck driver.

“He was always the first one here and the last one to leave,” she said. “He drove his motorcycle through all kinds of weather to get to class and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. He should be proud of his achievements because he has earned it.”

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Program is a federally funded work-training program that assists students who meet both eligibility and suitability requirements. The eligible student will be learning new skills for tomorrow’s workforce. WIOA may pay a small travel stipend or assist with childcare expenses to those who qualify. It may also pay for program required tuition, fees, books, supplies and other related materials that fall within program limits. For more information visit www.gntc.edu.

The commercial truck driving certificate program provides basic training in the principles and skills of commercial truck operations. The program is based on the definition of a truck driver as one who operates a commercial motor vehicle of all different sizes and descriptions on all types of roads.

At the completion of the program, students are administered the Georgia CDL Skills Exam.