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There are more than 50,000 truckers needed across the nation. A2Z Trucking Academy on U.S. 301 is trying to fill those positions one by one.
“I got into the instruction side of trucking a couple of years ago and I went to work for a couple other schools, but I realized that there had to be a better way of doing it,” said Eric Christiansen, president and co-owner of A2Z. “These other schools train drivers to pass the (commercial driver’s license) test, but here we teach students to be an asset to their company. Yes, they’ll pass the CDL test, but we want to give them knowledge to carry them on into their career.
“We started writing the curriculum last November, and on Sept. 20 we got it approved and licensed, so here we are.”
Brandon Bryant, 30, of Rocky Mount, said trucking is in his blood and he’s done some work with box trucks, but with five kids to support, becoming a truck driver just made sense.
“I met with Eric and he talked to me about his past as a truck driver and his own experiences,” he said. “I looked at a lot of schools, but once I came up here, I knew this was the right one. Eric was down to earth and his character, his delivery is what made me choose A2Z.”
Bryant will graduate on Dec. 14 and is unsure whether he’ll get a job as a long-haul or on-the-road driver who could be gone for weeks at a time or as a local driver. Christiansen and his partner Tim Newcomb work with recruiters from seven trucking companies spread throughout the country, including one in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
“All of the companies offer something a bit different,” Christiansen said. “We’re not owned by a trucking company, so students are free to pick a job that best fits them and what they want.”
New classes start every Monday with 10 students currently enrolled at various stages of the curriculum. Each student is required to complete 160 hours with 50 hours in the classroom, 50 hours in the yard, 40 hours of observation in the truck and 20 hours of driving, including three hours at night. Traditional day students can complete the course in four weeks while those who opt for weekend classes take eight weeks to finish.
Christiansen has seen many changes within the industry since he began in 1981, with the pay ranking as most notable. An average starting salary is nearly $40,000 with some drivers earning more than $55,000 within six months. He said drivers today have better benefits, and the pay per mile is drastically improved — around 17 cents per mile when Christiansen started and now 40 cents or more per mile.
“The trucking industry is very time-oriented. You’ve got to make calls on time and make your deliveries on time,” he said. “My dad calls it the ‘gypsy gene.’ You’ve got to like to travel and you’ve got to like to drive. I love it because you get to see all of America, although it is through a windshield. I looked at it like a paid vacation.”
Driving thousands of miles in all sorts of traffic conditions can be hazardous, especially when done behind the wheel of a 80,000-pound, 73-foot long tractor-trailer. Christiansen likened a 70 mph truck to a missile that takes four football fields to slow down.
“Truck driving isn’t the job people think it is when they stop at a truck stop and see drivers eating at the buffet. They think they are just hanging on to a steering wheel, but it is more,” he said. “It is 12 hours of being on point every minute because cars are all over you and other drivers don’t respect trucks. They’ll pull in front of you, slam on the brakes, cut you off, and this isn’t funny.
“When you pilot one of these things long enough, the potential for wrecks is always on your mind. Whether you’re driving on the highway, on a two-lane road or in the big cities, it is always on your mind. ‘If this car pulls in front of me, what is my Plan B? What is my way out? If I have to, am I going to turn the wheel to keep from hitting somebody?’”
Christiansen said he takes the work of driving a truck seriously, noting that 71 percent of American goods are delivered by tractor-trailers.
“I may not have brought you that computer you’re on, but one of us did,” he said. “One of us brought that toy, those pens and paper, and we’re part of a brotherhood.”
The 55-year-old man said being a good truck driver comes with sacrifices, especially on the part of loved ones who are left to care for kids for weeks at a time.
“My wife ought to be a saint because of all she’s put up with. I’d be home two or three days a month, and she raised the kids and took care of the house. It is difficult,” he said. “There are days when you’re sitting in Denver, Colorado, with your wife giving you a play-by-play of your youngest son’s baseball game and you’re crying like a baby because you’re not there. You know you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, but you still miss out.”
For more information on getting certified as a truck driver, visit www.A2Ztruckingacademy.com/.
“There are over 51,000 vacant driving jobs right now and they are anticipating that number will triple by the end of 2025,” Christiansen said. “If these big companies can’t get drivers to get their products to the stores, everyone is going to pay the price with higher costs for merchandise, gasoline, clothing. You name it, it will be affected.”