A new virtual reality initiative in Alabama is using upskilling to get students into well-paying diesel tech jobs

This college is using virtual reality to train students and fill skills gaps


A new virtual reality initiative in Alabama is using upskilling to get students into well-paying diesel tech jobs

Wallace State Community College, one of the largest colleges in the Alabama Community College System serving more than 6,000 students, is launching an ambitious new initiative that will harness virtual reality to train thousands of workers for roles in well-paying diesel tech jobs.

Delivered through the college’s popular Diesel by Distance program and built in collaboration with immersive learning startup TRANSFR, the partnership will expand access to career-relevant training and help thousands of working adults launch careers in the fast-growing diesel technology industry.

“As we work to help meet Alabama’s statewide workforce goals and get people into the many skilled trades with unfilled jobs, diesel technology is a key industry facing a serious shortage of talent,” said Dr. Vicki Karolewics, president of Wallace State Community College. “Through this next-generation approach to technical training, we have an opportunity to meet a pressing need for employers, while getting those in search of work into secure and good-paying jobs. The integration of simulation-based technology into this program is helping to generate new interest in the program and the careers in diesel tech, more broadly.”

Diesel by Distance will now feature hands-on virtual reality simulations that recreate the working environment of a diesel technician or mechanic. In the simulations, developed by TRANSFR, students learn, practice, and master skills that are essential to the construction, manufacture, repair, and maintenance of diesel engine vehicles. Because many employers require these technicians to be certified, the program helps to expand career opportunities for workers interested in pursuing diesel technology careers.

Alabama is one of several states facing a shortage of certified diesel technicians and mechanics qualified to service commercial trucks, buses, and diesel-powered transportation vehicles used for critical functions such as construction, farming, public transportation, and emergency services.

To keep pace with new equipment, changing industry standards, and a growing percentage of technicians reaching retirement age, the industry will require approximately 200,000 new technicians and mechanics over the next 10 years. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, employment opportunities in the industry are growing fastest among workers with college-level training. Meanwhile, diesel technology training programs are only producing about 3,500 graduates each year, according to data cited by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence

“The trucking and commercial transportation industry keeps our communities safe, healthy, fed, and connected, but none of that is possible without the highly-trained technicians that keep our fleets on the road,” said Mark Colson, president and CEO of the Alabama Trucking Association. “At a time when the need for skilled diesel techs is growing, the Diesel by Distance program will create the pipeline of well-qualified talent that our industry needs. The use of VR has brought the real-world experience of diesel tech into the classroom, ensuring students can be ready to get to work on day one.”

Launched in late 2020, Wallace State’s Diesel by Distance program combines self-paced coursework and fully-online training that enables students to earn a certificate or degree in diesel technology. Students enrolled in the program can study from anywhere—even on the road, with live feedback and training from instructors—while they participate in paid apprenticeships that allow them earn while they learn. Through funding from the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, Wallace State will also collaborate with the National Institute for Women in Trades, Technology & Science to recruit and enroll aspiring female technicians, helping them to upskill for good-paying work in an industry where women are significantly underrepresented.

“All skills gaps are local, and what we’ve heard clearly from industry is the need to augment traditional classroom instruction with the first-hand work experience that so often only on-the-job training can offer,” said Bharani Rajakumar, founder and CEO of TRANSFR. “As a true partnership between educators and industry leaders, Diesel by Distance has bridged the gap between work-based learning and classroom instruction, accelerating pathways to good-paying jobs for thousands of workers.”

Through a partnership with the Alabama Trucking Association and a network of other diesel trucking and automotive employers in the states, students will receive job placement assistance, ensuring that graduates can smoothly transition directly into good-paying diesel tech jobs after completing their training.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Laura Ascione

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