High demand for commercial truck drivers boosts program growth at Beaufort College

Beaufort's 16-week, 384-hour Commercial Truck Driving course is targeted toward everyone, and its class demographics showcase the program's success in that directive.

Posted Updated
Lisa D'Aromando
, freelance reporter
This article was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Community Colleges.

As current commercial truck drivers age out and demand for new drivers grows, freight companies are recruiting harder and from previously under-tapped resources: women and minorities.

There were 36,500 fewer truck drivers than needed in 2016. In 2017, that number was closer to 50,000, and there will be an estimated 90,000 new drivers needed annually over the next decade.
At Beaufort County Community College, industry veterans and program instructors anticipated this need. Beaufort's 16-week, 384-hour Commercial Truck Driving course is targeted toward everyone, and its class demographics showcase the program's success in that directive.

Director of Industry Training Justin Rose noted within the last two years the college has seen a great increase in the number of women in the program.

"Before, there were one or two women in each class," Rose pointed out. "Now a quarter to a third of the classes are female."

But it's not just women who are changing the landscape of commercial truck driving.

"It's something someone from every background can succeed at," Rose explained.

Beaufort's diverse group of students ranges in age from young men and women to older retirees eager to move into another career post-retirement.

Why the change? A career in commercial truck driving is a strong choice for many people.

Drivers can net anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 per year. Want to be home for dinner with the family each night? You can get a local job that pays hourly. Want to share the experience with your spouse? You can drive as a team.

Don't look like the stereotype of a truck driver that you’ve seen on TV? Good – that no longer exists, and the industry is eager to spread the word.

How to Begin Your Commercial Truck Driving Career

At Beaufort County Community College, instructors and curriculum developers know their students often need to maintain jobs during the week, so they have developed a program that allows for flexibility and online education.

While classes are held Sunday through Saturday, the classroom portion is online via Blackboard. Saturdays and Sundays are on-campus driving lab days, which cover pre-trip inspections and basic skills such as backing, coupling and docking.

Students also take trips on weekends, covering everything from rural roads and basic shifting to driving on Interstate 95. Over 10 trips, students cover 750 miles, crossing most of eastern North Carolina.

Throughout the program's duration, students are preparing and testing to receive their Class-A Commercial Driver's License. Beaufort's third-party examiner performs the testing, after which students take the paperwork to the Division of Motor Vehicles to pay for and gain their license.

In addition to providing online job-search tools, the school also works with both local and national trucking companies to bring in recruiters during the program. After obtaining their licenses, many students will go on to drive nationally with companies like Schneider and JB Hunt, or locally with employers like Weyerhaeuser.

"Beaufort Community College was affordable and convenient," said Crystal Khouri, a former student at Beaufort CCC who is now employed with Classic Carriers. "I was able to provide for my family through current employment and still better my career by attending weekend classes."

What makes Beaufort's program different?

While the cost (significantly less expensive than private companies), the training (longer than others at 16 weeks), and the schedule (flexible and online) are certainly strong selling points, the Beaufort CDL program's unique curriculum and community partnerships have proven invaluable for students.

For example, Weyerhaeuser recently gave Beaufort a $6,000 grant – enough for the program to purchase a log trailer and create a log emphasis. It's one of just a few programs in the nation to offer this emphasis, and the only one in the region.

With the regional and national need for log truck drivers up, along with the increased need for commercial truck drivers, this specialization has created a unique opportunity for Beaufort students.

With the log trailer, students are able to practice driving through rural log woods (dirt roads where trees are being logged) and receive first-hand experience driving through muddy, dry, dirty conditions with a loaded trailer. This allows students to experience how weight affects their driving. It also adds an extra safety awareness, leading students to be better prepared for the job after graduating from the course.

Khouri is an example of the successful careers this new generation of commercial truck drivers can have thanks to continuing education like the CDL program at Beaufort County Community College. Khouri, who is now a recruiter for her employer at the college, expounded on her experience.

"The instructors had a combined experience of over 40 years and were more than willing to share all their knowledge," she said, "I have found their 'words of wisdom' invaluable in the experience I'm gaining on the road."

She added, "I have nothing but gratitude for the advice and knowledge the team at Beaufort shared with me."

This article was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Community Colleges.