As shortage continues, CCC&TI keeps training truckers

Oct. 01, 2013 @ 01:03 PM

In this economy, it almost sounds like a myth: Start school, attend for two months and walk out after graduation with a job.

It happened for Dennis Street and Bo Petty, two students in the truck-driver training program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute.

Both were laid off in middle age and, after struggling to find work elsewhere, they each decided to take a stab at driving a truck.

In an economy that often leaves bachelor’s-degree graduates jobless or underemployed, truck driving currently is about as close to a sure bet as you can get. With a shortage of up to 15,000 truck drivers in North Carolina and as many as 200,000 nationally, it’s not likely a CDL-certified driver will struggle to find work.

“We literally came in here with zero truck-driving skill,” Petty said. “And we’re walking out two months later getting jobs.”

Since its start in 1990, CCC&TI’s truck-driver training program has graduated more than 2,000 CDL drivers and expanded from one truck to 75 pieces of equipment (that’s tractors and trailers).

The program has also expanded to five other locations – at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, Gaston College in Dallas, Mitchell Community College in Statesville and Isothermal Community College in Spindale. Administrators hope to expand the program to other campuses, but nothing definite is in the works, public information officer Edward Terry said.

The course takes eight and a half weeks if you take it during the day and 15 if you take it at night. And it can yield jobs with solid salaries – in the $40,000 to $50,000 range, often with benefits.

The profession is expected to keep growing – by 21 percent through 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand fluctuates with the economy, because fewer goods purchased means fewer goods shipped, but it has always been steady work, Chester said.

“It’s the last thing to go down and the first thing to pick back up,” he said.

Trucking is not easy or simple work – and some say that’s why there are thousands of trucking jobs available.

“You have a gigantic culture shock when someone is suddenly living on the road in a space the size of a walk-in closet,” trucker Brett Aquila told CNN Money in July. “Then you have the pressure, the erratic sleep patterns and the time away from home, family and friends.”

And operating a hulking tractor-trailer takes some practice. Petty and Street both had fears starting out, of backing up or slowing down or easing down graded slopes. But they said that fear eases with time.  

“Once you do it and you understand how you do it, you get over that irrational fear and conquer it,” Petty said. “I could drive across the whole country now, and I don’t think there’s anything that would stop me up.”

Chester said he loves the work, for the solid income and the freedom it provides. And he loves seeing his students gain some certainty in their lives. Trucking is “a job now and a job from now on,” he said.

And it’s interesting work, too, according to the soon-to-be truck drivers.

“You don’t get bored here,” Street said.