Check out our new article in the Commercial Appeal. –

On a South Memphis lot near scores of trucking companies hungry for drivers, industry veteran Bill Phillips gives advice to three students during a commercial truck inspection.

“Remember: From truck to truck, things are going to be differently located,” Phillips told participants of the Olympic Career Training Institute’s commercial driver’s license training program on Friday morning. “Your alternator might be on the right side on an International. It might be on the left side on a Volvo. It might be in the middle in the front of the engine on a Peterbilt, alright?”

Phillips’ commitment to the industry he has occupied for more than 30 years shows when he teaches future truckers as OCTI’s CDL director, said Kim Byrd, the Memphis company’s educational director. The military veteran has helped guide the training program since it launched in August.

Patrick “Trey” Carter, president of the almost nine-year-old Memphis company, took that praise further, referencing renowned sports coaches like Nick Saban and Gregg Popovich when talking about Phillips’ contributions to the program.

The classes have surpassed OCTI’s expectations and have piqued industry interest with 95 percent of participants passing, Byrd said. But the high success rate (some programs elsewhere pass as little as 20 percent of their participants, she said) does not mean the course is a rubber stamp, according to OCTI.

Byrd cites OCTI’s rigorous CDL training led by Phillips, which she says has impressed trucking companies who hire from OCTI, as a key reason for the pass rate.

Latrice Mason, one of the program’s students who took part in the inspection with Phillips, said she is going to pursue a truck driving job right away once she completes the class.

“I know more than I did before I came,” she said with a laugh.

A built-in ‘audience who’s interested’

OCTI has made its mark as a forklift operator trainer for years, and soon students clamored for truck driving training, too. Truck drivers often get their start as forklift operators, Carter said.

“Everything we’re moving with the forklifts or putting inside the warehouses are either going on or off a truck,” he said. “…People from the student side asked us so much that I said, ‘I think we need to do truck driving training. We have a (built-in) audience who’s interested.’”

Mason said her fiancé is a truck driver who inspired her to pursue a driving career of her own. She wanted to drive before that, but “put it on the back-burner” until she met him. After a Google search, she found OCTI, and she’s on pace to wrap up the program next week.

OCTI expects to train 500 truck drivers like Mason in the program’s first year, drawing Memphis-area job seekers in with its short time period — 160 hours — allowing students to pay expenses after landing a driving gig and a more promising career path.

“They are literally looking to train today, work tomorrow and have a check the next day. There’s an immediate need,” Byrd said of the course’s demographic, which skews young, male and may lack education beyond high school.

OCTI’s truck driving class costs $4,995