Trucking industry good alternative during a bad economy

Dile Bennett has been out of work for eight months, but in a few weeks that will be a thing of the past.

Bennett is a student at CSRA Transportation commercial driving school and will soon have a job with a transportation company, driving a tractor-trailer on the interstate.

“It’s good to know I’ve got that position waiting for me,” he said. “That will be nice.”

He found out about the program through the Augusta-Richmond County unemployment office. His last job was in manufacturing, but he said he always has been interested in trucking and thought the timing was right for a career shift.

“This is going to be perfect,” he said. “I like the job security, and it will be good to have some benefits.”

Learning to drive a tractor-trailer has been a lot to take in, Bennett said.

“It’s completely different from driving a car,” he said. “It’s higher up, bigger, and there’s always something you have to be thinking about.”

Job security is all but gone in many business sectors today, but Walter Lawton says the truck-driving industry is asking for drivers more than ever before. He is the head instructor and owner of CSRA Transportation, the Augusta area’s only commercial truck-driving school. The school has been teaching students since 2003 and has classes every month except December.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in demand,” Lawton said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2018, transportation jobs will increase 13 percent nationwide to more than 2 million.

According to the Georgia Department of Labor, there were 6,400 people employed in transportation in October. This number is about the same as a year ago, when there were 6,200 people employed in transportation.

James Scott is a sergeant first class in the Army, set to retire within the next year. He, along with four other students, is studying for his commercial driving license and plans to start driving trucks after his retirement.

“I’ve always been interested in trucking, and now that I’m getting ready to hang up the military hat I thought it would be a good time,” he said.

Scott has been in the military for 26 years and has been deployed seven times. Being away from his wife and five children so often made truck driving more attractive; he can live with his family in Atlanta and be with them on his off days.

“Twenty-six years being away from the family, that’s a long time to be apart,” he said.

Lawton said drivers must be clean of drug or DUI charges for at least five years and have gone one year without speeding or traffic violations. The $4,000 class fee is due upfront, but many transportation companies reimburse employees after several months of work. Members of the military can use the G.I. Bill to pay for it, and the class is also certified as a Workforce Investment Act training program. Being willing to pay for the class, Lawton said, demonstrates to employers that the students are serious about their work.

“They’re looking for someone who is willing to make an investment,” he said. “That shows you’re serious.”

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