SAVANNAH — Tribe Transportation is a growing company that just added 10 new trucks to its tractor-trailer fleet. The problem has been hiring people to drive them.
So far the Georgia-based company has filled four of the jobs, leaving six vacancies. The new hires are mostly veteran truckers in their 50s, men who probably won’t spend too many more years behind the wheel, said Matt Handte, Tribe’s executive vice president for sales and operations,
“It blows my mind that I’m looking for that many people and I can’t find them,” said Handte, who’s also struggling to hire logistics brokers who line up freight transportation for customers such as PepsiCo, H.J. Heinze Co. and General Mills.
Even amid a struggling economy with high unemployment, trucking companies had a tough time hiring young drivers willing to hit the road for long hauls. Now the U.S. is speeding toward a critical shortage of truck drivers in the next few years as the economy recovers and demand for goods increases, an expert in the inner-workings of supply chains said in a report Tuesday.
U.S. companies are expected to create more than 115,000 truck driver jobs per year through 2016, but the number of Americans getting trained to fill those jobs each year is barely 10 percent of the total demand, said Page Siplon, executive director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics.
“Trucking accounts for how we move 80 percent of cargo in our nation” said Siplon, whose center is part of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “If we don’t have enough workers, it’s going to be slower and more costly to move products. If I can’t move as much product to the shelves as I want to, the cost to consumers goes up.”
Siplon looked at a range of supply-chain jobs — from truck drivers and warehouse workers to air cargo supervisors — using career-specific employment forecasts by the U.S. Department of Labor and then comparing those numbers with Education Department statistics showing how many degrees and certifications for those jobs are being earned each year.
The results found truck drivers will account for 43 percent of expected growth in logistics jobs, but those will also be the positions with the fewest workers trained to fill them.
The Department of Labor says the median yearly wage for tractor-trailer drivers is $37,770, with some drivers earning more than $57,000. Handte and Tom Pronk — vice president of recruiting for C.R. England, a Salt Lake City-based company that employs 7,500 truckers — both said some drivers can clear $100,000 a year.
Both men said older drivers are feeling pressured to retire by federal safety regulations enacted in 2010 that keep a closer watch on drivers’ work hours, drug testing any tickets and traffic citations they get on the job. And the job can be hard to sell to younger workers who don’t think it’s worth the money to spend time on the road away from their families.
Companies are trying different approaches to lure young drivers. Some offer higher wages — a few extra cents per mile — or work with drivers to carve out shorter routes designed to get them home sooner.