In September 1979, David Simmons dropped $150 to enroll in a truck driving course at East Central Community College. That decision enabled him to land his first job as a trucker.
Some 40 years and countless miles later:
“(It) turned into a pretty doggone good career,” he said.
Now a career coach for Union County School District, Simmons is well equipped to help students find their calling in the transportation/logistics field, one of the leading career fields in Northeast Mississippi and a featured pathway in this year’s virtual Imagine the Possibilities career expo.
He works with students at West Union, East Union, Ingomar and Myrtle attendance centers in the Union County School District, where he tries to visit one school a day, visiting classrooms and meeting one-on-one with students. His speciality is teaching students at goal-setting and achievement.
After landing that first job in trucking, Simmons worked for 26 years as an over-the road trucker for Walmart Transportation and later transitioned to a Department of Transportation safety and compliance role with Walmart Logistics. He retired after 31 years with the company and 36 total years in the business.
“The only thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a truck driver,” Simmons said.
His “romance with the transportation industry” grew from a desire to see the country, and he had been introduced to trucking by a couple of friends whose fathers worked in the industry.
In retirement, he became the career coach for Union County School District, a role he’s held for three years.
When Simmons first asks students what a career is, he gets answers like “a job” or “a place to go.” What he and other career coaches try to instill in students is the thought that a career should be a vehicle to help them achieve their life’s dreams.
“When you’re working towards your dreams instead of a paycheck, everything changes,” Simmons said.
The ongoing Imagine the Possibilities Career Expo, which Simmons was introduced to via his work with Walmart, is operating online as virtual experience this year, sponsored by the Toyota Wellspring Education Fund and the CREATE Foundation. It launched on Oct. 6 and will continue online through March.
Simmons believes the virtual Imagine the Possibilities Career Expo is often enlightening for students because it shows them people working locally in career fields in which they’re interested.
“The array of opportunities that are available within our own backyard is the biggest eye-opener I think to our students,” Simmons said.
The Imagine the Possibilities Career Expo focuses on educating high school sophomores, but students in eighth through 12th grade benefit from diverse resources on the website – from aptitude tests to podcasts, laid out like hors d’oeuvres at a party, from which to pick and choose.
While working for Walmart, Simmons managed around 200 truck drivers and said the average age of their drivers was around 58 years old. In his role as career coach, he works to help high school students see that there are tremendous career opportunities that don’t require a four-year college degree.
The transportation/logistics career field is accessible for any student who would like to pursue it.
Simmons often talks with driver’s education students about career fields where driving is necessary and encourages them to maintain clean driving records for future jobs. One out of every 13 jobs in Mississippi involves a transportation/logistics aspect, Simmons said.
He also encourages students pursuing a career in transportation to take community college courses, which are available tuition-free through Mississippi’s tuition guarantee program, to learn a trade like diesel mechanics or welding that will blend with trucking since inter-state truck drivers must be 21 years of age.
Those 18 years and older can currently only drive trucks within their own state, but the country as a whole has a constant truck driver shortage.
“Google ‘truck driver jobs’ and you’ll absolutely find that there’s an industry that’s starving for good, quality, safe, dependable and I’d even say family-oriented truck drivers,” Simmons said.
Simmons’ favorite part of the job is interacting with his students, who he says have a “vision of hope” for the future, good work ethic and an eagerness to learn.
“If anybody is down on today’s youth, they need to follow me around for just one day in any one of my four schools and they will have a complete turnaround,” Simmons said.