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Truck Drivers are in for Long-Haul of Demand
by Will Burchard
Published May-22-2014

About 71 percent of all freight transported in the U.S. in 2012 was delivered by trucks. This equates to almost 14 billion tons of cargo, from healthcare supplies and groceries to gasoline and mail. In more isolated and rural areas, trucks are often the only delivery source for consumer goods. According to the American Trucking Associations, more than 80 percent of all communities rely solely on these vehicles to transport commodities in and out of town.

Consumers and businesses alike turn to heavy and tractor-trailer trucks to supply and deliver their products. As the economy recovers and household spending rises, the need for truck drivers will grow. Here in Oregon, as well as the U.S., we're seeing demand for these workers increase as everything from job boards to employer surveys reveal that truck drivers are a highly sought after workforce.

Covering the Basics, From Training to Employment
Most heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers are interstate transporters, hauling freight of 26,000 pounds or more. Typically, long-haul drivers plan their own routes based on their final destination and delivery deadline. But the job isn't as simple as getting from point A to point B. Drivers need to carefully plan routes that allow for large trucks; keep detailed records of their mileage, schedules, and inspections; and make sure they maintain compliance with state and federal commercial vehicle regulations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires that interstate drivers work no more than 14 hours per day, with a maximum of 11 hours of driving. In addition to working long hours, truck drivers often work nights, holidays, and weekends and face long hours, boredom, and fatigue. However, there are also a number of advantages to being a truck driver: flexible work schedules, decent wages, and job security, to name a few.

Prospective truck drivers usually start their career with courses at a technical or vocational school to prepare for getting their Commercial Driver License (CDL), though some employers may offer their own training programs, or provide funding for other programs. Oregon currently has eight training providers, several of which have multiple locations across the state.

Training programs usually require at a minimum that applicants be 18 years of age; hold a current Driver's license; pass an Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) physical test and drug screening; and submit proof of an acceptable driving record. To drive commercial vehicles across state lines, drivers must be at least 21 years old.

Many of these schools offer night and weekend classes. A typical curriculum will cover safety, logistics, state and federal regulations, basic driving skills, customer service, and vehicle and freight inspection, among other subjects. Training time is divided between the classroom and open-road instruction. Many schools offer between 150 and 200 hours, usually during the course of one month. Some trucking program's tuition covers the cost of an ODOT driving permit, skills and knowledge tests, and other fees related to CDL licensure. For a complete listing of CDL requirements, visit  www.oregon.gov/ODOT/DMV/driverid/cdlget.shtml#CDL.

After getting a CDL, entry-level truck drivers can decide between two main types of employment. Owner-operator truck drivers own or lease their own vehicles through a trucking company and transport that company's freight, or they work with other companies as independent contractors. The second option is to work as an employee of a trucking company, as a company driver. Recent graduates are usually able to find work, but some employers may request that applicants have at least six months to one year of on-the-road experience.

Once employed, truck drivers can expect to earn median wages of $19.00 per hour. Since truck drivers often work long hours and are usually compensated by the mile or on a per-haul basis, this figure may vary according to each individual's workload and schedule.

Table 1
Quick Stats on Truck Drivers, Heavy and Tractor-Trailer
Oregon truck driver employment is projected to grow 14.5% 
from 2012 to 2022, matching the national growth rate. 
In 2012, 7.2% of U.S. truck drivers were self-employed.*
Truck drivers comprised 2% of Oregon's self-employed 
from 2008 to 2012.* 
In Oregon, 1,933 drivers held a Class C CDL as of Dec. 2010.
In 2010, there were 574 "green" truck driving jobs across Oregon.
Oregon trucking programs had 659 graduates in 2012.
* Includes light and service delivery truck drivers
Sources: Oregon Employment Department; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Oregon Department of Transportation
Most Job Openings in the Foreseeable Future
In 2012, there were 21,630 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers employed in Oregon. From 2012 to 2022, this occupation is expected to have an average of 688 openings per year, which is more than double the median number of statewide openings across all occupations (286). This qualifies heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers as a high-wage, high-demand occupation. In fact, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers were the number three high-wage, high-demand occupation in Oregon behind registered nurses and general/operations managers.

An aging workforce is often cited as one of the biggest challenges facing the trucking industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of a truck driver in the U.S. is 48. With so many workers nearing retirement age, employers will need to replace workers, as well as hire workers to fill the increasing number of trucking jobs. Occupational projections show that trucker employment growth over the next decade will be split evenly between openings due to new job creation, and those made available from workers leaving their jobs.

Data Emphasize Driver Shortage
Data produced and gathered by the Oregon Employment Department suggest that there is a shortage of truck drivers in Oregon, and that truck driver vacancies are difficult to fill.

The Oregon Employment Department's Job Vacancy Survey indicates a high level of difficult-to-fill job vacancies for the truck driver occupation. More than 400 occupations statewide had vacancies in 2013, and just four of those occupations had more than 1,000 vacancies. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers were one of these occupations. The occupation had a total of 1,191 job vacancies. The survey also asked employers which occupations were the most difficult to fill. Truck drivers were number one on this list, with 83 percent of vacancies being listed as difficult to fill.

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers are continuously one of the most frequently posted jobs on the internet. The Conference Board's Help Wanted Online data series measures ad volume across all occupations. In 2013, there were an average of 1,674 ads posted each month in Oregon for heavy and tractor-trailer drivers. This was one of the highest among all occupations. In February, March, and April of 2014, truck drivers ranked in the top three occupations for ad volume each month.

Fueling Up for the Long Road Ahead
Driving heavy and tractor-trailer trucks is hard work, but it offers decent pay and a number of other benefits. Training programs usually prepare entry-level drivers for employment in as little as one month (at minimum), providing the trucking industry with a much-needed supply of workers in a reasonable time period.

Despite the number of available jobs and a high unemployment rate, the trucking industry continues to experience a shortage of workers. Oregon's truck driver shortage is currently being addressed by groups like TSC and OTA through new workforce development initiatives and training programs, which are driven the growing need for these workers. The challenges presented by a near-retirement-age workforce are being compounded by the hiring difficulties faced by many trucking companies, making it clear that the demand for drivers will remain high for some time to come.