“As far as we know, it’s the oldest ongoing school in the nation,” says Paul Jump, program head of the North Carolina Truck Driver Training School on the Johnston Community College campus in Smithfield.
“We started in 1949. Some started before us, but they’re long gone,” he says.
Johnston Community College is known for its programs in nursing and industry, but the trucking school is among its most popular divisions.
Graduates from the college’s trucking course can expect to earn an average of $35,000 in their first year of work on a big rig.
“We estimate we’ve graduated in excess of 20,000,” Jump says. “Every trucking company that’s been around for an extended period of time has been in contact with our drivers.”
The training school’s graduates have gone on to work for most of the nation’s trucking magnates, including J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., United Parcel Service of America Inc. and Colonial Trucking Inc.
The school graduates about 400 students a year, he says. The cost also is worth mentioning. While private trucking schools charge as much as $6,000, JCC’s cost is $630, Jump notes.
Students must complete 384 hours of training, offered in day courses over eight weeks or night classes spread over 12 weeks.
The school’s staff of 15 instructors and mechanics teaches students about preventive maintenance and how to diagnose problems with trucks.
“But our main function is driving,” Jump says. “We crank up on week one. We concentrate heavily on defensive driving, map reading and loading and unloading.”
And the students take the wheel by themselves during the last two weeks of the course.
“As far as we know, we are the only school that allows students to drive a truck without the instructor on board before the student graduates,” he says. “We consider that a tremendous learning experience.”
The truckers’ school, sponsored by the North Carolina Trucking Association in Raleigh, became part of the community college in 1974.
About 140 truckers compete every year in the state championship trucking event held at the school’s campus. The state winner goes on to compete nationally.
“We’ve had some repeat winners,” says Rick Cates, with the North Carolina Trucking Association, which represents more than 500 companies in the state. “We have a gentleman in North Carolina that’s won the nationals eight times and that probably won’t be repeated.”
Cates, the director of safety and security for the trucking association, says the JCC program graduates top-notch drivers.