Truck-driving jobs are among the fastest growing occupations in the nation, but fewer residents in the region have commercial driver's licenses, and transportation companies are struggling to attract qualified drivers, according to a Hamilton JournalNews/Middletown Journal analysis.
The U.S. trucking industry is expected to create more than 330,000 jobs by the end of the decade, but experts predict the shortage of drivers could almost reach 240,000 in the next 10 years because of industry growth, retirements, recent regulations and competition from other sources.
Trucking firms are scrambling to attract new drivers and to retain their current employees by offering bonuses, pay incentives and better working conditions. But life on the road can be a hard sell.
"Many of our members say they've got trucks, they've got freight, but they've got no drivers," said David Bartosic, spokesman with the Ohio Trucking Association.
Between 2010 and 2020, employment opportunities for drivers of heavy and tractor-trailer trucks are expected to grow to 1.93 million jobs from 1.6 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's employment projections.
During that period, the trucking industry is expected to create more jobs than all but seven other occupations. Those occupations include registered nurses (711,900 additional jobs), retail sales workers (706,800 jobs), home health aides (706,300 jobs), personal care aides (607,000 jobs) and office and other clerks (489,500).
3rd fastest job growth
The median annual wage of truck drivers was about $37,770 in 2010, the third highest compensation among the top 10 fastest-growing occupations, according to labor department data. Only registered nurses and post-secondary teachers had higher median annual wages, which were, $64,690 and $45,690, respectively.
But the middle-class pay and growing labor demand is not sufficiently increasing the supply of drivers.
The number of people with commercial driver's licenses dipped last year across the state and in Butler County, according to data from the Ohio Department of Motor Vehicles. It was the first time in at least a decade that the number of Ohioans with commercial driver's licenses dropped. Employment in transportation and trucking industries has also fallen this year in Ohio, according to labor department data.
At the current rate, the gap between the number of available tractor-trailer drivers and the U.S. labor demand is expected to widen to 239,000 people by 2022, according to an analysis by the Virginia-based American Trucking Associations.
The shortage of drivers is connected to the impending retirement of many current drivers, said Bartosic, with the Ohio Trucking Association. Freight tonnage also is on the rise as the economy rebounds, increasing the need for additional drivers, he said. Some drivers are leaving the industry in search of easier or better-paying work. And the December 2010 launch of the federal Compliance Safety Accountability program resulted in stricter requirements and regulations on drivers and freight companies.
The American Trucking Associations estimates that about 7 percent of drivers would create scoring problems through the federal safety-compliance program, which means they could lose their jobs or companies may be reluctant to hire them.
In 2011, about 89 percent of the 47,740 people with commercial drivers licenses in the Miami Valley had some sort of traffic violation on their driving records, according to state data. The program seeks to identify and filter out dangerous drivers and trucking companies.
Truck drivers also work long hours and the job can be physically demanding. Truckers often have to be away from their homes for long periods of time.
But the pay is good, and some drivers can earn between $40,000 to $60,000 if they stick with the job, said Donald Banks, training manager of the Ohio Business College Truck Driving Academy in Madison Twp.
Drivers get to see the country, and the demands of the job are getting easier because of new regulations and companies are improving their work conditions in order to attract and retain employees, he said. Companies also continue to provide signing bonuses, raises and other incentives to drivers to avoid turnover and lure new drivers.
"The job's a lot more regional than it used to be, and it's a lot more driver friendly, because they used to just throw you the keys and you'd go to work," he said. "Now we are a regulated industry, and drivers get home more often than they did."
A new career with high turnover
Banks said trucking jobs often appeal to older workers who need a new career. Many students who enroll in trucking school were laid off from the manufacturing sector, and the average age of enrolled students is about 54 years old, he said.
Many laid off workers are eligible for financial assistance to pay for school through the Workforce Investment Act. Part of the appeal of enrolling is that students are basically guaranteed a job if they graduate and pass the state certification test, Banks said.
"Every student who passes the state test has a job lined up through us," he said.
Industry experts said trucking firm must raise wages and improve their operations to attract and retain drivers. Truck drivers must be at least 21 years old, but firms can establish relationships with young people at community colleges and other venues to get them interested in the careers.
In an attempt to address both the driver shortage and high unemployment among military veterans, federal lawmakers passed new legislation that will allow military service members to transfer commercial driver's licenses they obtain while stationed in other states.
By law, commercial driver's licenses procured in other states are non-transferable. The new legislation exempts military members.
Ken Henderson, president of J.P. Transportation Company in Middletown, said while the company is currently at its staffing capacity, which is unusual, the industry itself faces a turnover of 100 percent on truckload carriers and is seeing a smaller employment pool compared to years ago.
"The average truck driver is in his 50s and our pool is kind of shrinking," he said. "Our drivers get home on the weekend, plus a couple of times during the week. I don't think we see it as bad as someone of the rest of the industry."
Dennis Weber, safety and compliance manager for Lairson Trucking in Hamilton, said the biggest problem facing small carriers with 100 trucks are less are having driver's recruited by larger companies.
The past 18 months or so have been particularly difficult to find drivers, as many will not commit to one place for the long haul, Weber said.
"You get the guy who works for one place for three months and feels the grass is greener somewhere else at quits and he goes there for two months and he doesn't like it there and then goes to another place," Weber said. "They're just bouncing around like a pinball."
Weber said he believes the shortage of people in the trucking field can be attributed to potential drivers not being able to pass a drug test or having too many points on their driver's license, meaning insurance companies won't insure them, Weber said.
Lairson Trucking would offer economic incentives to attract drivers except for one small detail.
"The rate (of pay) that you're getting is so deflated, you can't afford it," said Weber. "You can't just run them up and down the road to create a job for somebody."
LeRoy Strickland, 50, graduated from the Ohio Business College Trucking Driving Academy over the summer after serving 30 years in the military.
Strickland said he had several offers from trucking companies when he graduated, and he accepted a position with Maverick Transportation. He said some friends highly recommended the company, and he was impressed with its professionalism.
"It wasn't about the money for me, it was about the reputation of the company," he said. "They have an excellent safety record and the maintenance on their trucks is outstanding."
Paying for truck driver's training doesn't always work out for everyone, Weber said. Many drivers who earn their commercial driver's license won't get hired without two years verifiable tractor trailer experience, he said.
The solution some potential drivers find is applying at larger companies, who are self-insured.
"They'll hire somebody right out of school and teach them what they want to teach them but what they do when they hire you is, to keep you, they make you sign a contract ... that you're going to stay with them for a minimum of one year," Weber said. "Every week, a percentage of your paycheck goes in an escrow account. If you quit before that year is up, they keep that money."
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