OXFORD — One of the unique aspects of the trucking industry that Regal Driving Academy hopes to capitalize on is the short-term nature of on-the-job training.
“I can take you in 16 days from anywhere you are right now to a $70,000-a-year job,” said Eric Christiansen, COO of Regal Driving Academy. “All you have to do is come to school. And the need is enormous. Right now it’s a driver’s market. If you have your CDL, you can walk into any company and ask for whatever you want, and they’ll probably give it to you.
Christiansen made the pitch at an open house Nov. 6 at the Regal Driving Academy’s 202 E. Industry Drive campus in Oxford. The truck driving school, which opened on August 28, hosted transit representatives from GoDurham, TransAM Trucking and TMC Trucking, among other transport companies looking to recruit drivers.
With plans to add locations in Washington, North Carolina, and Sunset Beach, Regal Driving Academy has a pair of rigs in Oxford for students to learn from: a 2007 Kenworth and a 2013 Mack.
Vance-Granville Community College also offers a truck driver training program, and Christiansen said the main difference between the programs is time.
“Their class is a bit longer,” Christiansen said. “Our course lasts four weeks and you are done. I like Vance-Granville by the way. And we work well together. We associate on certain things. So I like that. But the big difference is that we are a private school and they are a community college.
A native of Johnston County, Christiansen drove a truck for 33 years before transitioning to the educational side of the industry and establishing the AZ Trucking Academy in Wilson.
Regal Driving Academy is owned by Shibu Nainan, a native of India and a resident of Oxford, who arrived in North Carolina after 27 years in Dubai.
Nainan’s wife, Sheeba Joseph, works as a registered nurse at Duke University Hospital, and Nainan’s work experience includes leading off-road desert safari training in Dubai.
“I wanted to do something where I can also give back to the community,” Nainan said. “That was one of the criteria I had. Looking around the trucking industry, it was definitely the shortage of truck drivers and all of that was a way of trying to do something something to give back to the community.
The American Trucking Associations reported in October that the industry was short of 80,000 drivers.
“Rising freight demand, pandemic-related challenges related to early retirements, closing driving schools and DMVs, and other pressures are really driving up the demand for drivers and therefore the shortage,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello.
Others dispute this notion, believing that the industry’s problem stems more from maintaining employment than an actual shortage of drivers. Nevertheless, jobs are available.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the 2020 median salary for tractor-trailer truck drivers at $47,130 per year and projects the job outlook for 2020-30 to increase by 6%.
The trucking industry moved 72.5% of all freight moved in the United States in 2019, according to ATA.
“America is truly a just-in-time trucking business,” Christiansen said. “It takes two days and there will be nothing on the shelf, so we have to keep the truckers coming. We have to get them moving.”
Christiansen experienced this when he hauled cargo for three months in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and Southeast Texas after Hurricane Wilma.
When a Texas law enforcement officer asked Christiansen to drape American and Texan flags on either side of his trailer, Christiansen had his “lightbulb moment.”
“Trucking has always been about making money, but right now it wasn’t about the money anymore,” he said. “It was about helping someone who needed help… When you see desperate people and you have what they need in the back of the trailer, that changes everything.”
Yet, having traveled to each of the lower 48 states in his career, Christiansen’s most satisfying moments are watching his students graduate and find jobs. A recent Regal Driving Academy graduate started driving for Sherman and Boddie of Oxford, and honks his horn every time he passes the school.
“Now he’s there to support his family,” Christiansen said. “And I have something to do with it. And my instructors too, and all the staff here. And it feels good.”