In Economic Mobility, Quality Jobs

Earning a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) opens doors to career pathways that promote self-sufficiency. From bus drivers to garbage truck drivers to long-haul truckers, obtaining a CDL is a way to launch a career in an in-demand occupation.

On average, Cowlitz County workers in heavy tractor-trailer and truck driving earn $42,134 annually, compared to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) living wage standard of $33,105 for Cowlitz County, WA. The MIT living wage standard provides regional estimates of what a full-time worker would need to make to cover the cost of living based on family size. This standard helps contextualize what careers can provide wages adequate for job seekers to support themselves and their families. Truck drivers are in demand and the industries that employ them are eager to hire people who have their CDL.

In 2023, four WorkSource Kelso clients participated in training and testing to earn a CDL. The training was funded through grants secured by Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW) that were then invested into WorkSource for the Thrive program, which holistically serves job seekers through career and support services that help people experiencing poverty.

Launched in early 2020 in the Highlands and South Kelso neighborhoods, Thrive is tailored to support individuals and families experiencing poverty in rural communities. Thrive expanded to all of Cowlitz County in late 2020 and expanded to Wahkiakum County in 2022. In 2023, the program will expand into Clark County.

“The program benefits the regional economy by serving job seekers and meeting business employment needs,” said Mando Antonino, Workforce Southwest Washington Program Manager overseeing the Thrive program. “Helping diverse participants engage in the workforce system supports businesses in filling vacant and in-demand jobs with well-matched local talent.”

Thrive helps to expand the skilled labor force and connect businesses to motivated job seekers in Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties. This benefits job seekers, employees and businesses alike by improving the job outlook and regional economy in rural areas.

So far 521 individuals have enrolled in Thrive and 43 have completed job training. One hundred and twenty-nine people have been placed into employment with an average annual wage of $38,680. In Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties, the average annual wage for jobs upon exiting the program provides participants with income ample to be self-sufficient in the region.

Top occupations Thrive participants enter:

  • Transportation and Material Moving
  • Healthcare Support
  • Office and Support
  • Production Occupations
  • Food Preparation and Serving
  • Construction and Extraction

The CDL course took place at Right-Way CDL Academy in Kelso, WA, where participants learned everything they needed to know about trucking. Kevin Mackie, the owner of Right-Way CDL is passionate about providing hands-on, interactive learning so participants can train hard and test easy.

“Above and beyond – I learned a lot. Just everything necessary for me to be able to pass my test and get my certificate. Beyond that, they are certifying me today with my brake adjustments certification,” said George, a Thrive program participant. “They’ve given me extra time, taught me tons of extra things that I don’t even need for the test that I will be able to use on the road.”

While these four individuals chose to pursue CDL, the Thrive program offers many pathways and supports participants while attending training.

“Without me even asking, I was given $75 of gas vouchers, which really did help me out.” – George, Thrive participant.

For many of the participants, the scholarship that funded the training was life changing. The subsidized training allowed participants to access a career that otherwise may not be possible. The price of CDL training can be steep, ranging in cost from $3,000-$7,000.

“This is a career I have always wanted. It gave me the opportunity to do it with WorkSource being able to give me the scholarship. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Olivia, another Thrive participant.

After completing the training, participants enter a job market with businesses competing to recruit and attract job seekers with CDLs. In Cowlitz County, more than 750 people are employed in heavy tractor-trailer and truck driving and 1,906 are employed in transportation and warehousing. Heavy tractor-trailer and truck driving is expected to grow 0.7% annually, while transportation and warehousing is projected to grow 0.4% annually.

“When I take my CDL test next week, it’s going to open a lot more doors for employment and money for my wife and my daughter,” Brian remarked on his experience in the program.

Several of the participants had jobs lined up before even taking their CDL exam. Both Kevin Mackey, owner of Right-Way and WorkSource career coaches continue to offer job support to find jobs for participants.

“Really, it’s changing my whole life,” said George.


Ready to Thrive in your career?

Learn more about the Thrive program by contacting:

Clark County – Heather Fox at WorkSource Vancouver at Call WorkSource Vancouver at 360.735.5000 or visit the office at 204 SE Stonemill Drive, Suite 215, Vancouver, WA 98684 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Cowlitz County – Kristi Williams at WorkSource Kelso at Call WorkSource Kelso at 360.577.2250 or visit the office at 305 S Pacific Avenue, Suite 101, Kelso, WA 98626 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Wahkiakum County – Erica Zink at Employ Wahkiakum at


WSW’s Thrive program is supported by PY23 allocations of $487,283 (32% of total) U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration federal funding and (68% of total) State funds distributed by Washington State Employment Security Department: $775,794 State Economic Security for All program funding and $240,088 Department of Commerce’s Community Reinvestment funding.

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