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CDL license training offered to North Chicago residents

Veteran North Chicago public works employee Dean Johnsshows off city dump truck thwill be used traresidents who want earn their

Veteran North Chicago public works employee Dean Johnson shows off a city dump truck that will be used to train residents who want to earn their commercial driving license or CDL.| Judy Masterson~Sun-Times Media

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For more information on the city of North Chicago’s CDL training program, call Josh Wheeler at (847) 596-8691. Applications must be picked up in person from Wheeler between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, or on Saturday, Aug. 3, between 1 and 3 p.m. during Community Days at the city tent.

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Updated: September 29, 2013 2:17AM

North Chicago Public Works Director Josh Wheeler recently struck out when he tried to hire a temporary worker who possessed a commercial driver’s license. Applicants hungry for the work and who were otherwise qualified, lacked a CDL.

“Why not help them get one?” asked Wheeler, who doubles as the city engineer and who floated his idea at a staff meeting to hearty approval.

“Our citizens want jobs,” Wheeler said. “We need to fill jobs. We’re expecting people to retire over the next five years. We’d like to offer those jobs to North Chicago residents.”

Applications are now being accepted for the city’s Commercial Driver’s License Assistance Program, which offers free CDL training to qualified North Chicago residents. Applicants must possess a valid Illinois driver’s license and pass a drug test and background check.

“But just because you have a record (criminal) doesn’t mean you don’t qualify,” Wheeler said.

Participants must commit a minimum of four weekday hours per week to the program which will include driving city trucks under the guidance of public works professionals, help studying for the CDL test and assistance navigating the rigorous CDL licensing process. When the time comes, the city will send a public works employee and one of its trucks to a CDL license facility for the trainee’s use.

Meanwhile, the city benefits from trainee labor.

“We’re not paying them,” Wheeler said. “Their compensation is the training. We’re putting them to work driving our trucks. They’ll be carrying everything from asphalt to concrete to tree branches.”

The training is good for a CDL Class “B” license.

“That gets you into dump trucks and school buses — not semis,” Wheeler said.

Dean Johnson, 54, of Zion, a mechanic who has worked for the city for 20 years and who drives and repairs the city’s vehicles, said the unofficial CDL school is a good idea. A lot of people want to earn their CDLs, he said, but they don’t have a vehicle to train in. He earned his CDL on his own, after he was hired by the city.

“After I got mine, I helped other guys get their’s,” said Johnson, who added that while the CDL test is a challenge, the driving is fun.

The city, which employs 17 permanent and seven seasonal street and utility workers, is only hiring people with CDLs, Wheeler said. Starting salary for a seasonal worker is between $12.50 and $14. Full-time workers, members of the union AFSCME, earn $34 to start.

“We’re offering opportunity,” Wheeler said. “And the potential to work for us in the future.”

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