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April 2, 2018 6:30 PM, EDT
N.C. School's Driver Training Program Offers Military a Career Path
Instructor Billy Erskine and military graduate Sean Lenn Instructor Billy Erskine and military graduate Sean Lenn, courtesy of Erskine

Members of the military who earn a commercial driver license increase their chances of finding employment once they leave the service, Billy Erskine, director of the North Carolina Truck Driver Training School, told Transport Topics recently.

“It gives them a skill set that they can [use to] transition into civilian life,” Erskine said during an interview March 29. The school had recently graduated 11 soldiers from U.S. Army Fort Bragg military installation. One of the graduates from Fort Bragg had recorded one of the top scores in the school’s history.

A state grant covers the $1,123.50 tuition costs for soldiers at Fort Bragg. Soldiers have an out-of-pocket expense for the Class A learner’s permit, as well as a study guide, and CDL license that totals $120, Erskine explained.

The school’s curriculum is designed to teach the fundamentals of inspecting and operating tractor-trailers. An emphasis is given to defensive driving, range maneuvers, safety regulations, trip planning, cargo handling, size and weight regulations, maintenance procedures and hours-of-service rules. Training, instruction and testing occur at school facilities using equipment provided by the school.

Driver training school truck

One of North Carolina Truck Driver Training School's trucks, courtesy of Billy Erskine

Helping the students find employment upon graduation is a priority. Erskine schedules a job fair to provide networking sessions between students and recruiters. About 80% of graduates at the school who are from the military pursue careers in trucking, helping to tackle the industry’s driver shortage, Erskine said.

The shortfall is projected to grow to more than 174,000 drivers by 2026 if current trends hold, according to American Trucking Associations in a recent report. ATA officials state that they encourage its member companies to participate in veteran-hiring programs.

Aside from driving a truck, soldiers may pursue other roles, such as operations specialist, manager or part of a maintenance division. “They can take that skill set and move it over into the transportation industry and then branch out into other opportunities within the transportation industry,” Erskine said.

The next class is scheduled to begin May 7, and it concludes June 29. A dozen service members from Fort Bragg have registered for the training, which is held at Johnston Community College in Smithfield, N.C.

A recent class of North Carolina Truck Driver Training School graduates

A look at a recent graduating class, courtesy of Billy Erskine

Eddison Cyrus, a field recruiter with Epes Carriers Inc., often scouts for talent at the school. When he meets the students who are based in Fort Bragg, he encourages them to view the CDLs they earn as their main career plans rather than their backup option. Cyrus also is a veteran.

“I know the doors a CDL can open for these drivers,” Cyrus told TT on March 30. “Having that CDL gives you a little more opportunity to get out of the house, even if it’s part-time … you’re doing something, and you don’t have to struggle to find a job.”

Epes, based in Greensboro, N.C., ranks No. 81 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

Rick Cates, vice president of Marsh & McLennan Cos., is on the board of the North Carolina Truck Driver Training School.

“The soldiers gave it all to protect our freedom, so it was the least we could do to furnish them a way to enter the trucking industry, by giving them the best training,” Cates said in a statement to TT.

Fort Bragg’s public affairs office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.