Help Wanted Truck Drivers

December 8, 2006
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COOPERSVILLE — Despite the state’s high rate of unemployment, transportation companies such as Foreway Transportation are constantly looking for qualified drivers.

Chaz Troyer, human resources safety director at Foreway, said there has been a shortage of drivers for at least the last several years.

“I think that most drivers are wanting to get out of the industry,” she said. “The allure is gone.”

For over-the-road drivers, it means a lot of time away from home, which Troyer said is becoming less appealing to those in the industry.

With a “dedicated route,” drivers have a set schedule and know when they have to leave and when they will be home.

“We have gained some more dedicated routes, but we are looking for more,” she said.

Troyer said it’s difficult to pinpoint a single reason for the driver shortage, but said that restrictions for insurance and training regulations have trimmed the pool of qualified drivers.

“They go to bigger companies. A lot of bigger companies have training programs so they gain their experience there.”

Larry Benton, president of CEO of Classic Transportation Services, agreed that the shortage of drivers is a challenge to the industry.

“It is a shortage of good, qualified drivers that’s a challenge now, and I daresay is going to be a challenge going forward, as well,” he said. “In the past, pay has been poor, drivers for other companies may not have been treated well. It all catches up, and when the economy was robust, these guys were looking for greener pastures.”

Benton said when he looks at drivers, their safety record is a predominant issue because of its effect on the company’s insurance rates, which can hurt its competitive edge.

“I look for guys with good over-the-road experience with solid safety records, and guys who take their job seriously,” he said. “It’s a profession to them — guys who are professional and good at what they do.”

As for the impact drivers can have on the company, Benton said, it’s a make-or-break situation.

“I don’t think you can really underestimate what a good core of drivers can do for you,” he said.

Walter Heinritzi, executive director of the Michigan Trucking Association, said the challenge of finding drivers is exacerbated when the economy is doing well, as it is in many parts of the country.

“It’s always a challenge to find good, quality truck drivers,” he said. “They’re the backbone of the industry. Without them, nothing moves.”

Heinritzi said experts have suggested that demand for trucking services will increase by 30 percent over the next 10 years. The industry will adapt to meet the need, he said, or customers will simply look at other ways to move freight.

“We’re doing everything we can, along with our national association, to create awareness that trucking is a viable industry,” he said.

While drivers for regular truck routes have remained stable, Heinritzi said, it’s harder to find and retain drivers for the truck load routes, where drivers may be dispatched anywhere in the country and be away from home for long periods of time.

“That segment of the industry has the challenge of always trying to get more new blood into the system,” he said.

As the owner of three driving schools, including West Michigan CDL, Mike Birdsall said the number of students who are training has jumped 12 percent in the past year.

“We’ve been growing at a pretty rapid rate,” he said.

Birdsall said with Michigan’s economic climate and high rate of unemployment, people are now looking at all available jobs, including driving positions. The two-week classes offer a quick way for people who have been downsized or laid off indefinitely to get back to work, Birdsall said.

School participants are pre-screened and applications are processed before the start of classes, he said.

“We work on a regular basis with about a dozen core carriers,” he added.

In order to work as a driver, Birdsall said, people have to be 21 or older to drive over the road or regionally, have a relatively clean criminal and driving record, and be able to pass a physical exam and drug-screening test.    

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