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Valley companies gear up to fill truck driver shortage

Published: Mon, December 31, 2007 @ 2:00 a.m.



A study predicted it, companies expected it and now it’s happening: A steep decline in people looking to become truck drivers is occurring nationwide, and it’s being felt in the Mahoning Valley.

The American Trucking Association and Global Insight say there’s a national shortage of more than 20,000 truck drivers. According to the study, the shortage is expected increase to 111,000 by 2014 as the baby boom drivers prepare to retire.

This statistic has trucking companies scrambling to find new drivers.

“We have such a demand right now. We have recruiters from many of the carriers looking around. They’re always in here,” said Jim Catheline, admissions director of the New Castle School of Trades in Pulaski, Pa.

Trucking companies and the ATA study are quick to point out that a truck driver shortage isn’t new, and it doesn’t affect all truck drivers.

According to the ATA, the economic boom of the late ’90s caused a shortage of long-haul drivers as companies struggled to keep them while giving them so much work. A 2000-01 recession put the shortage on delay only for it to return in 2004 with a strengthening economy.

Clayton Boyce, ATA vice president of public affairs, said the shortage is mainly for long-haul drivers, not truck drivers that get home every night.

Currently, Boyce said, the shortage has received short-term help.

“We are in a bit of a [freight] slump right now,” he said. “The decline is because of the slowdown in the economy. So it will provide a temporary effect to ease the shortage.”

Boyce said he expects the economy to bounce back and the shortage to return.

Because of rigorous tests, finding a good truck driver is difficult.

“They have to pass a series of written tests, hands-on test, ODOT [Ohio Department of Transportation] physicals, have decent-to-good driving records,” said Rick Rathburn, school director of TDDS Professional Training Center, in Lake Milton.

The reported average annual turnover of 121 percent for large truckload carriers also leaves little room for error including accidents, DUIs and drug screens.

The pressure of the job is something Don Constantini, president of Falcon Transport Co. in Austintown, said many new truck drivers can’t stand.

“Not everybody is cut out mentally for driving. Some people say, ‘Hey, this isn’t me. I can’t put up with it,’” he said.

To entice truckers, companies are realizing the importance of driver satisfaction.

A smaller company, Southwind Transport, in Youngstown, said it tries to make sure drivers get home so they can be happy while also being productive.

“We’re local, so most of our guys live around the area. We realize our drivers have families. We kind of work around everybody and they work around us,” safety director Kathy Sanders said.

“I think some of the companies have [changed] their routes. Instead of saying ‘Drive from here to Tennessee,’ they’ll say ‘Drive here to Detroit,’” said John Timmer, director of Human Resources for trucking company Nick Strimbu Inc., Sharon, Pa.

Overcoming the image of truck drivers being uneducated is tough, Rathburn said.

“Image is a big factor. People don’t want to be looked down on. We’ve really tried to change that as more of a business person type of attitude rather than the road cowboy,” he said.

The age requirement also is a problem. The minimum age for a truck driver is typically 23, making it hard to hire people as most of them already have jobs, Timmer said.

To get new drivers, companies are pulling out all the stops.

Constantini said his company has partnered with the Army by offering jobs to soldiers after their service is over.

Rathburn said he has resorted to reaching younger ages to interest them in the career.

“For me, it’s getting out and planting the seeds at middle schools and even elementary schools,” he said.

Recent interest from the unemployed, and from curious prospects, have Rathburn and Catheline hopeful.

“We have more and more inquiries about driving,” Catheline said. “Truck driving is relatively easy to learn. In six weeks time, you can be ready.”

“If you have a good driving record, one of our drivers could leave here with five job offers before they walk out the door,” Timmer said.



1UpMayo(1 comment)posted 8 years, 6 months ago

Go figure, truck drivers make more money than any other job out there. Our company pays drivers over a grand a week and all they do is complain they don't make any money. I work 50 hours a week for a lot less. Drivers call at all hours of the day and night, weekends, holidays and even when I am out of the country. For what? Directions to where they are going,(who's driving that truck)money to eat while they're on the road, (what did you do with the money you made, ask your wife for the money) to tell me they are running out of fuel and what should they do. You're driving a truck dumbass this is not rocket science. Things in this industry haven't changed in a hundred years. It snows, it rains, it's foggy, your always late anyway. For the money you make be on time for goodness sake. Drivers are the same all over the country, we bend over backwards to help them, give them jobs, nice trucks with lot's of power and comfort and they leave it in a truck stop somewhere for us to send a tow truck after to retrieve. They jump from one company to the next and burn bridges, but there are so many companies begging for drivers they don't care and hire them anyway.
Guess what? you guys are driving trucks. You're not flying planes. Why should you be so spoiled? I have been kicking around this industry from the bottom up. I was a driver, warehouse manager, sales manager, dispatcher, and safety director(currently) I make less than they do, but I get to go home every night. That is the trade off here guys. Go out on the road if you want to make an honest living. My truck had no air, no radio, no sleeper, no air bags, no phone and no tracking device. If I called my dispatcher and asked for directions he would have had me bring the truck back and fire me (God forbid I run out of fuel or needed money to eat)
SUCK IT UP NANCIES. TAKE YOUR LUMPS AND QUIT YOUR CRYING. Maybe if the teamsters wouldn't have done so much damage to the industry we wouldn't be in this situation. They ruined it themselves and now they want more. (Guess what your company is going to close too someday.)
God help us. I can't wait to hit the lottery or move to Youngstown and sell drugs, since everyone there seems to think the steel mills are coming back, I may as well wait for it too and live off the state.

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2Old_Timer(2 comments)posted 8 years, 6 months ago

After having spent the last nine years training new drivers, I would sum it simply as you have gotta like what you are doing. This is the one occupation that has the highest job satisfaction of any job out there. Once you have at least a years worth of experience - yes! - there are union jobs that will pay $90,000 or more in three to five years - and you are home every night! (Or non-union (Sysco, Gordon Foods, etc) that pay a little less (IF you both like people and like work).

If you find that you don't like the road side of things there are plenty of opportunities to move into lateral positions as dispatch or driver management, load planning, recruiting, sales, etc., and even safety - if you like people.

If you find that special niche you may even want to jump in and start your company. There are several dozen guys from Bosnia in my town that already own tractor-trailer fleets of between four and in once instance - over 100 trucks. Not bad for being over here for five or six years with limited English skills.

So there is plenty of opportunity even in today's sometimes up, sometimes down economy. The sky is the limit. The key thing, again, is like what you do - no love your job - and the money and everthing else will follow. But you have to first take a chance, work only with people that are willing to help you grow, and enjoy what you do.

Take it from the Old Timer. All the best to everyone in 2008! God Bless.

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