Trucking companies struggle to find drivers

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Considering today's economy, a rare scene played out in the lobby of Tennessee Truck Driving School about a week ago.

About a dozen students listened to an employer who had traveled hundreds of miles to try to talk them into applying for a job.

R.L. Joyce Jr., a recruiter for Greensboro, N.C.-based Epes Transport System Inc., listed the benefits of working for his company — health insurance, 401(k) retirement plan, paid vacation and holidays, pay of up to 37 cents per mile, and a "Time at Home Policy."

"We try very hard to get our drivers home each week," he said.

Joyce passed out information sheets and urged the students to apply, but Epes Transport isn't the only company that has visited the school in Louisville, Tenn.

In fact, some students had already been "pre-hired" with other companies, pending completion of their training. That definitely appealed to Joni Lawson, a Clinton resident attending the school.

"It's a career where you can already have a job waiting on you when you finish school," she said.

But while long-haul truck driving is a job in heavy demand now by trucking companies, it does not seem to be in very high demand by job seekers, even in the face of continuing high unemployment levels.

Trucking industry officials and analysts say there is a nationwide shortage of truck drivers. Last month, a story in USA Today quoted industry experts as saying this is a growing problem, driven by such things as older drivers retiring, fewer younger people entering the field, an increasing government focus on driver safety records and other factors.

In June, the Council of Supply Management Professionals released its 2012 Annual State of Logistics Report, which said trucking companies across America are having difficulty recruiting drivers. In a presentation to the National Press Club, Rosalyn Wilson, author of the report, said a sampling of trucking companies polled in a recent survey found that up to 10 percent had trucks sitting idle because of a lack of drivers.

TruckGauge, an online provider of analysis and information on the trucking industry, predicts there will be a shortage of about 150,000 drivers nationally by the end of the year, and believes that new government hours-of-service rules will push the shortage to 240,000 by the end of 2013.

The shortage is definitely affecting Tennessee, said Dave Huneryager, president and CEO of the Tennessee Trucking Association.

"When you have 9,000 trucking companies in Tennessee, it is definitely a problem that is having an effect," he said.

The shortage is bad enough to have an impact on the ability to move goods, he said.

"I did an impromptu poll with eight trucking company owners at a lunch in Memphis, and each one had 2 percent to 10 percent of their trucks parked because they didn't have enough drivers," Huneryager said.

Tim Jones, general manager of Knoxville-based Burkhart Enterprises, said the company has had to leave some trucks parked because of a lack of drivers.

"We could use several drivers right now," he said... Continue reading.