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 wherever you’re at right now to a $70,000-a-year job,” Regal Driving Academy Operations Manager Eric Christiansen said. “All you’ve got to do is come to school. And the need is tremendous. Right now, it’s a driver’s market. If you have your CDL, you can go to any company and ask for whatever you want, and they’re probably going to give it to you.”

Christiansen made that pitch from an open house Nov. 6 on Regal Driving Academy’s 202 E. Industry Drive campus in Oxford. The truck-driving school, which opened Aug. 28, welcomed representatives from GoDurham public transit, TransAM Trucking and TMC Trucking among other transportation companies looking to recruit drivers.

With plans to add locations in Washington, N.C., and Sunset Beach, Regal Driving Academy has a pair of rigs in Oxford for students to learn on: a 2007 Kenworth and 2013 Mack.

Vance-Granville Community College also offers a Truck Driver Training program and Christiansen said the major difference between the programs is time.

“Their class is a little bit longer,” Christiansen said. “Our class is four weeks and you’re done. I like Vance-Granville by the way. And we work well together. We partner up on some stuff. So I like that. But the big difference is we’re a private school and they’re a community college school.”

A Johnston County native, Christiansen drove a truck for 33 years before transitioning to the education side of the industry and establishing A-Z Trucking Academy in Wilson.

Regal Driving Academy is owned by Shibu Nainan, a native of India and Oxford resident who arrived in North Carolina after 27 years in Dubai.

Nainan’s wife, Sheeba Joseph, works as a Duke University Hospital registered nurse, and Nainan’s professional background includes leading off-road, desert safari training in Dubai.

“I wanted to do something where I can give back to the community as well,” Nainan said. “That was one of the criteria that I had. Looking into the trucking industry, it was definitely looking at the shortage of truck drivers and all that, it was a way of trying to do something to give back to the community.”

The American Trucking Associations reported in October the industry was short 80,000 drivers.

“Increased demand for freight, pandemic-related challenges from early retirements, closed driving schools and DMVs, and other pressures are really pushing up demand for drivers and subsequently the shortage,” said ATA’s chief economist, Bob Costello.

Others dispute that notion, believing the industry’s issue stems more from job retention than an actual shortage of drivers. Nevertheless, jobs are available.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the 2020 median pay for tractor-trailer truck drivers as $47,130 per year and predicts the job outlook for 2020-30 to grow at 6%.

The trucking industry hauled 72.5% of all freight transported in the U.S. in 2019, according to ATA.

“America is very much a just-in-time business for the trucking side,” Christiansen said. “It takes two days and there won’t be anything on the shelf, so we’ve got to keep truck drivers coming in. We have to keep them moving.”

Christiansen experienced that firsthand when he hauled goods for three months in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, and in southeastern Texas following 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 “light-bulb moment.”

“Trucking has always been about making money, but in that particular moment in time, it wasn’t about the money anymore,” he said. “It was about helping somebody that needed help ... When you see people that are that desperate and you have what they need on the back of the trailer, it just changes everything.”

Yet, having traveled through 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 Oxford’s Sherman and Boddie, and blares down on the horn each time he passes the school.

“Now he’s out there making a living for his family,” Christiansen said. “And I had something to do with that. And so did my instructors, and the whole staff here. And that makes you feel good.”

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