Driving up demand

Published 1:49 am Friday, July 27, 2012

Renee White of Andalusia is part of an LBWCC truck driving class.

During tough economic times with high unemployment, Americans should be jumping at any chance to work, but trucking companies are struggling to hire drivers.

There are as many as 200,000 job openings nation- wide for long haul truckers, according to David Heller, director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Association.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also sees the demand for truckers increasing, up from the 1.5 million drivers on the road now. It expects trucking to add 330,100 jobs between 2010 and 2020, an increase of 20 percent.

And all one needs to get behind the wheel is a bit of dedication and the appropriate certification, which can be found in Opp, said Jennifer Hall, adult education and workforce specialist at LBW Community College McArthur campus.

Truckers earn a median annual wage of $37,930, which is $4,000 more than the median wage for all jobs, according to the BLS. The top 10 percent of truck drivers make more than $58,000 per year.

So why aren’t there more drivers?

The biggest hurdle for the unemployed may be getting a commercial driver’s license, which requires a training course that’s up to eight weeks long and costs about $3,500.

“But, we have tuition assistance program that can help with the cost,” Hall said. “The student has to be dedicated to program. They have to put in the 240 contact hour program, where an instructor goes over safety – first and foremost – control skills include backing, a pre-trip inspection, keeping a log book, shifting, downshifting, then learning how to drive on the road.

“The No. 1 benefit of the program is employability,” Hall said. “If someone wants to go to work as a commercial truck driver, they can find a job.”

And that’s true, according to Chris Weaver at the River Falls terminal of Quality Carriers. There, 21 drivers are employed to haul resins and glue used in the manufacturing of plywood, OSB board and other building materials, Weaver said.

“We’re not hiring in Andalusia, but drivers are needed in our other terminals in Mobile, Birmingham, Atlanta and Sanford, N.C.,” he said. “Of course, you have to live there, but there are a lot of independent operators here in Covington County who own or lease their own rigs.”

Weaver said the trucking industry is growing.

“When the economy tanked around 2008, the industry took a hit,” he said. “But, during late 2010 and continuing on, there’s been a high demand for products, and, in tur,n truckers to get those products to where they need to go.”

Several of the largest long-haul trucking companies in the U.S. are hiring.

Derek Leathers, president and chief operating officer at Werner, said that his company has about 100 open long-haul truck driving positions. The current shortage of truckers has forced his company to work much harder than it used to in order to fill these positions, spending more money on advertising and additional recruiting staff.

The same can be said for local companies, as well. Pierce Trucking in Andalusia is hiring as is MSJ Trucking in Opp.

“We’re always look for a good driver, with an emphasis on good,” said MSJ owner Harold Sorrells. “We’re not lacking in drivers, but we can always use someone who has at least two years of verifiable experience.”

Students in the LBWCC-McArthur campus are in the driving portion of the six-week course.

Charles Johnson of Enterprise is following in his dad’s footsteps.

“Dad’s been driving a truck for 42 years,” Johnson said. “I’ve always seen him do it, and now it’s my turn.”

Renee White of Andalusia said the certification is the key to a successful career.

“My husband is a truck driver,” she said. “Our goal is that we can do it together. Drive cross-country. I’ve never seen California, and this is my chance.”

Those interested in more information about the LBWCC program should contact Hall at 334-493-3573.