February 26, 2016 3:00 PM, EST

Tech School’s Truck Training Expo Deemed a Success

Students in Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute's truck driver training program received a golden opportunity Feb. 18 to connect with employers at the first Truck Driver Hiring and Information Expo.

Recently, there has been a shortage of drivers in the trucking industry, and the expo is one way CCC&TI is trying to address it, said Edward Terry, public information officer at the college. Representatives of 15 companies attended; no information was immediately available on how many students registered.

“There’s such a shortage of truckers out there, and we’re churning graduates as fast as we can. They’re getting gobbled up [by employers],” Terry said.

Barry Bailey, director of transportation and logistics for Bernhardt Furniture, said the shortage started once the millennial generation — roughly speaking, the generation that started reaching adulthood in the early 2000s — joined the workforce.

“When it got to the millenniums, they thought, ‘I don’t want to drive a truck. I’ve been playing games all my life. I want to do computer engineering,’” Bailey said.

Bailey said there are many perks in being a truck driver because a 21-year-old can make $50,000 a year to start and still be home one day a week and two days on the weekend. Truck driving is a career, not a job to look down on, he said.

“We’re really on a campaign to restart this [career]. The furniture industry needs them badly,” Bailey said.

Students were excited about the opportunities they had to meet with representatives of companies including Cargo Transporters Inc., Cooke Trucking Co. Inc. and Brooks-Dehart Furniture Xpress Inc.

Stacie Smith of Mecklenburg County said learning to drive an 8,000-pound 18-wheeler is a feat.

“I’ve never driven on or been in one, so it’s tough,” Smith said.

Still, driving a truck has been a dream of Smith’s.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I just had to get the right time, and the timing was right. I’ve got no husband and no kids so nothing was holding me back,” Smith said.

Biff Prestwood of Hudson said he signed up for truck driver training classes after the plant he worked at for 26 years closed down.

“I had the opportunity to go to school and learn a different trade,” Prestwood said.

Prestwood said finding a job as a truck driver appears to be easy, thanks to the expo and to representatives from trucking companies coming to class at least once a week.

“It looks like we’re going to have jobs before we even get through the class,” Prestwood said.

Roger Chester, program director at CCC&TI, said the truck driver training program — with CCC&TI also runs at 10 other community colleges through partnerships — has a total of 200 to 225 graduates a year.

The program's Hudson training site may get some improvements if voters approve the proposed $2 billion NC Connect bond package that will be on the March 15 primary ballot. CCC&TI would receive $5.6 million, which would be used in part to expand the Hudson site for easier truck maneuverability and to add classroom space.