A shortage of drivers has trucking companies offering to pay recruits while they're training
By Mark Puente, Times Staff Writer
In Print Saturday, August 13, 2011
Gary Jones lost his job in December after working in construction for nearly 30 years. At 55 and retirement still years away, he needed a new career and a steady paycheck. He got his wish.
Jones recently juggled six job offers and expects to earn $40,000 over the next year by joining the ranks of the 3.5 million truckers who shuttle freight on American roads. The transportation industry needs a lot more people like Jones to fill a nationwide shortage of truckers that may hit 300,000 next year.
"People can't find jobs in Florida," said Jones of Wesley Chapel. "This is an avenue to pursue."
It sure is, although it seems odd there would be a shortage of truck drivers with a national unemployment rate of 9.1 per cent (10.6 percent in Florida) and the economy just stumbling along.
New standards enacted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration forced carriers to scrutinize the employment, driving and criminal histories of applicants — weeding out many problem drivers. That, coupled with carriers gutting recruiting departments and downsizing fleets during the Great Recession, triggered the shortage.
The new rules have caused an operational hardship, although safer drivers on the road are better for the public, said Bob Costello, chief economist at the American Trucking Association.
He calls the shortage "a quality issue, not a quantity issue." On the flip side, "drivers who have good records are in high demand," he said. The shortage has prompted the group to launch a nationwide recruiting campaign.
Many jobs have starting wages higher than $35,000. Advertisements litter billboards, the Internet and print publications. Still, to the bafflement of the trucking industry, the calls go unanswered.
"The pool of applicants just isn't there to fill these jobs," said Mary Lou Rajchel, president of the Florida Trucking Association. "The doors are open to hire professional truckers."
The days of people wanting to grab a CB radio while steering 80,000-pound rigs across the freeways are waning as baby boomers approach the twilight of their careers.
"The younger generation is not willing to do this work," said Doc Hyder, president of Rowland Transportation in Dade City.
Hyder is seeing more turnover among his 91 drivers as they test the waters at other firms. Shipping costs will rise as carriers battle for drivers, he said.
"It will lead to higher wages for drivers," he said. "It's what they deserve."
For years, the industry battled negative stereotypes made famous by movies like Smokey and the Bandit and news stories about problem drivers moving between carriers in the same week... Continue Reading...