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June 24, 2019 8:00 AM, EDT

North Carolina Cultivates Talent for Careers in Trucking Operations

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For young people and others seeking ways to prepare for a new and rewarding career without racking up serious college debt, the North Carolina Trucking Association has joined forces with 13 state community colleges to ­offer some options.

Through the Trucking Operations Management program, students can take courses to help prepare them for careers in the transportation industry.

Cargo Transporters logo

After working for three years with NCTA, community colleges in North Carolina obtained approval in 2015 from the State Board of Community Colleges to offer this new subject area of instruction.

Jerry Sigmon Jr., chief operating officer at Claremont, N.C.-based Cargo Transporters, said he’s excited to see the TOM program up and running, as it could help his company bring new employees on board to replace older ones as they prepare to retire.

Sigmon said over the years, ­Cargo Transporters has been fortunate to draw upon a deep bench of seasoned employees with anywhere from several to 30 years of tenure.

Jerry Sigmon Jr., chief operating officer at Cargo Transporters

Sigmon

“But as we’re looking to replace people who have retired and are nearing retirement, we’ve been having a bit more difficult time in finding and hiring people for those entry-level positions,” he added.

Being able to draw on homegrown talent trained at nearby community colleges is particularly important for Cargo Transporters, which added a $6 million terminal facility in Rocky Mount, N.C., two years ago.

“As the TOM program gets going, we need to be prepared to support it by encouraging young people to take a look at the available opportunities and consider its graduates when we make our hiring decisions,” Sigmon said.

Crystal Collins, president of NCTA, said the program not only helps trucking companies such as Cargo Transporters find and hire recruits for much-needed support positions, but also offers students a foot in the door to successful careers in the trucking industry.

“When you can show a group of high schoolers or community college students that they can start making anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 annually in their first year, they tend to sit up and take notice,” Collins said.

Amy Medlin, director of qual­ity and employee development for Epes Transport System and chairwoman of NCTA’s higher education working group, agrees.

The biggest challenge in getting young people to look at the trucking industry as a potential career choice is raising awareness, Medlin said.

For many young people, and others, the industry is seen as somewhere to work only if you want to drive trucks or fix them. What they don’t realize is the amount of information and communications technology that’s involved in supporting truck drivers, Medlin added. They also don’t understand all of the ­career opportunities and potential for upward mobility.

So far, response to the TOM program has been positive, Medlin said. However, enrollment still isn’t where it needs to be at several campuses.

In response, some have started by offering continuing education courses, which allow students to attain credentials or certificates for various skills. By earning these credentials or certificates, students can demonstrate to potential employers that they have the basic knowledge to start working in various support roles. The credentials or certificates, together with job experience, could then be applied later toward the requirements for a two-year associate or four-year bachelor’s degree in operations management or logistics management, she added.

The NCTA has developed a video to help share information about the North Carolina TOM program and career opportunities in the trucking industry.