Trucking companies face labor shortage

Published 12:29 am Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Covington County trucking companies need drivers.

It’s a growing trend nationwide and trucking companies, as increased regulations make it more difficult to fill spots.

H.D. Edgar, owner of H.D. Edgar Trucking in Opp called the shortage “critical.”

“We have openings for several truck drivers,” he said. “We need 55 drivers, and we only have 43-44 drivers and tomorrow we may not have that many.”

Edgar said the issue isn’t having equipment or business for drivers, it’s simply securing drivers.

“We compete with larger companies,” he said. “We are on the same competitive schedule they are.”

Edgar said that with new government regulations, “the little guy is gradually becoming forced out.”

The new regulations have reduced the number of hours that truckers are allowed to drive and they are now required to have more frequent breaks.

Edgar said this puts long-haul drivers on the road longer, without extra pay.

To alleviate some of the burden, Edgar said his company increased drivers’ wages last month.

Edgar said it’s now more expensive for potential drivers to get into the field, and trucking companies are competing with oil companies, which pay more, for employees.

At Pierce National Inc. in Red Level, Safety Director Johnny Beckworth also pointed to new regulations as a deterrent for young people who may otherwise have entered the workforce as a driver.

“You can’t just go be a truck driver like you used to be able to,” Beckworth said. “It’s expensive now. There are new (Department of Transportation) regulations, and insurance regulations. The older drivers are retiring, and the younger generation just is not as interested in the field anymore.”

Like Edgar, Beckworth said companies the size of Pierce National are competing with larger operations capable of offering more to new drivers.

“We don’t employ any trainers here,” Beckworth said. “Larger companies do, and they can hire drivers right out of driving school. We require two-to-three years of experience.”

Beckworth said things haven’t quite reached a critical level at Pierce, but added it is certainly a point of concern for the future.

“We teach our guys the new regulations, and as far as recruiting, it is what it is,” he said. “There are still drivers out there looking for jobs, it’s just not as many as in the past.”

Beckworth said Pierce National Inc. currently employs around 40 drivers, with the average age in the mid-40s.

Edgar predicted that companies will increase drivers’ wages over the next five years to compete, which will drive up the cost of shipping freight.

“Ultimately, the cost goes back to the consumer,” he said.

At Lurleen B. Wallace Community College’s MacArthur campus in Opp, Jimmy Hutto, associate dean of adult education and workforce development, said the number of students enrolled in the Truck Driver Training class is small, but steady.

“We do have a lot of interest,” Hutto said. “But each one of our classes is limited to five students, because we have one instructor and two trucks. It’s a short, six-week class.”

Hutto said interest in the class “ebbs and flows,” but has maintained enough in enrollment to keep it active since being started in 2010.

“It’s probably dropped off a little, maybe 10 percent,” he said. “If I had to attribute that to anything, it’s probably things like driving records and court problems. There are pretty strict regulations for drivers. A lot of people want to be a driver, but can’t.”

Due to insurance, equipment and other costs, Hutto said the program is also expensive, but can open the door to a job market that is in obvious need.

“There are certainly jobs out there,” he said. “There’s money to be made.”

The six-week training course at LBW is $3,500, according to the college’s web site. Tuition assistance is available only through the Workforce Investment Act.

LBW’s next driving course begins April 14.