America Needs More Drivers - Werner Enterprises

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drivers in needBy BeckyOrr
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Becoming a trucker is a good career choice now, given the national shortage and growth potential of the industry.

CHEYENNE -- Cody Sturgis climbed in behind the wheel of the white Freightliner parked at the trucking school's training lot.

He started the rig, shifted gears and drove ahead at about 3 mph.

"It's kind of scary at first," said Sturgis, recalling his initial attempt.

He backed up and pulled forward. "It was a great achievement," he said.

Sturgis, 25, just started classes at Sage Truck Driving Schools on Fox Farm Road in Cheyenne.

He will attend for five weeks to earn his commercial driver's license. He needs the license to drive tractor-trailers.

Sturgis of Cheyenne picked a good time to start his career as a truck driver, given the national shortage of qualified and experienced truck drivers.

Brenda Birkle, director of the Sage school here, said she gets calls every day from companies that need drivers. Inquiries range from mom-and-pop operations to big, over-the-road corporations.

"It's a good time for them to go into this industry," said Noel Perry, managing director at FTR Associates in Nashville, Ind. "People are hiring and are willing to help with training, and some are paying bonuses."

Officials at some trucking companies cannot get the number of drivers they need, he said.

He described the shortage as moderate, estimating that there are about 150,000 too few drivers. He expects the shortage to increase to about 300,000 drivers if a federal regulation moves ahead to limit the hours truckers can drive.

The shortage of experienced and qualified truck drivers has happened because of baby boomers leaving the workforce, federal efforts to crack down on drivers with poor driving records and an economic upturn.

"The government is regulating us more and more, which is going to require more and more drivers to do the same work," said Bob Synowicki, executive vice president of Werner Enterprises Inc. based in Omaha, Neb., one of the largest trucking companies in the world.

Making sure drivers are safe is a great thing, he said, but it creates more need for quality drivers.

The number of truck drivers plummeted in the 2008 recession, along with the number of loads that trucks hauled.

Things are picking up now, inching closer to the tonnage hauled before the recession.

There are an estimated 3.1 million truck drivers now nationwide, compared with a high of 3.5 million drivers in 2006, said Bob Costello, chief economist with the American Trucking Associations.

Transportation is one of the highest growth industries, Birkle said.

But the number of drivers is increasing at less than 1 percent, while the amount of freight grows at an average of 4 percent a year, she said,

"This is a great time for someone to get into a career as a truck driver," Synowicki said.

A first-year driver at Werner Enterprises earns an average of $35,000 to $45,000 a year, he said. The company has 7,300 trucks and 12,500 employees, 10,000 of whom are truck drivers... Continue reading.