July 2, 2012
In demand: Industry can't haul in enough truck drivers
A job seeker looking through classified advertisements in North Carolina is very likely to see trucking companies from as far away as Massachusetts and Nebraska calling for applicants for open positions they cannot fill.
Despite a national unemployment rate topping 8 percent, trucking companies are struggling to recruit and retain enough drivers due to a host of factors.
The shortage dates to the years leading up to the Great Recession, when well-paying construction jobs were plentiful and the industry had problems finding replacements for all of the veteran drivers who were retiring. That hundreds of thousands of driver vacancies remain today — four years after the real estate bust — speaks in part to the waning popularity of the profession.
“You have drivers retiring every day,” says Charlie Gray, owner of Carolina Trucking Academy in Raleigh, N.C.. “For every driver that goes out the back door, you better have a driver coming in the front door. There’s not a lot of people coming in the front door.”
Estimated 200,000 openings
Companies desperate for quality drivers have begun offering sign-on bonuses, higher salaries and safety bonuses. And yet there’s still a national shortage, conservatively estimated, of at least 200,000 workers, says David Heller, director of safety and policy at the Truckload Carriers Association.
An aging workforce, a requirement that long-haul drivers be at least 21 years old and new federal safety regulations have all played a role in the current shortage.
Demographic changes mean there simply aren’t as many potential men under the age of 35 as there were in the baby boomer generation, says Charles Clowdis, managing director of transportation industry services at IHS Global Insight.
Younger workers who traditionally may have gone into trucking choose other occupations over a life that requires long stints away from home. Since a college education is not required for truck driving, but truck drivers have to be 21 to cross state lines, trucking companies lose potential employees who go to other industries, enroll in a trade school or enter the military.
Although the industry is suffering from a shortage of all types of drivers, most of the open positions are with truckload carriers, which transport goods over long distances.
“The job of being an over-the-road truck driver is difficult,” Clowdis says. “You’re away from home; it’s somewhat of an unset schedule.”
'As close as a sure thing'
New government regulations limiting drivers’ hours and monitoring drivers for safety violations have exacerbated the shortage, says Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations, which put the industry’s annual turnover rate at 88 percent in December.
“Some companies say they could actually add more equipment if only they could find more drivers,” he says. “As long as you have a good driving record, you can easily get a job in this industry.”
Costello says the steep cost of training, averaging from $4,000 to $6,000 for four to six weeks of driver-training school, is a barrier to entry. While many nationwide companies retroactively reimburse newly hired drivers monthly for the cost of schooling, potential drivers still have to pay the school in advance or try to qualify for student loans.
Still, at a time when many professions offer little job security, truck driving is as close to a sure thing for those who meet the qualifications.
“You can take a person making minimum wage and put them into school, and four to six weeks later they will be making anywhere between $38,000 [and] $40,000 entry-level, with benefits,” says Cindy Atwood, of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association. “That’s a pretty good story. And that job can’t be outsourced.”
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