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Truck Drivers are in for Long-Haul of Demand

Published Apr-24-2012

About 70 percent of all freight transported in the U.S. each year is delivered by trucks. This equates to roughly 10 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. 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 up to 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 over the course of one month. Some trucking program 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 $18.38 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 21%   
between 2010 and 2020, matching the national growth rate. 
In 2008, 8% of U.S. truck drivers were self-employed.*  
Truck drivers comprised 2% of Oregon's self-employed   
between 2006 and 2010.*         
In 2010, there were 574 "green" truck driving jobs across Oregon.
Oregon trucking programs had 750 graduates in 2010.  
* 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 2010, there were 20,706 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers employed in Oregon. Between 2010 and 2020, this occupation is expected to have an average of 730 openings per year, which is more than double the median number of statewide openings across all occupations (315). This qualifies truck drivers as a high-demand occupation, and in fact, the second highest in-demand occupation in the state; registered nurses came in first place.

An aging workforce is often cited as one of the biggest challenges facing the trucking industry. The general consensus is that the national average age of truck drivers is close to 50. 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
The Oregon Trucking Solutions Consortium (TSC), an organization formed in 2006 to address the shortage of truck drivers, noted in their 2010 report that despite high unemployment, many companies are still struggling to maintain an adequate supply of drivers. A 2009 joint survey conducted by TSC and the Oregon Trucking Association (OTA) found that recruitment, training, and retention present the greatest obstacles to meeting the industry's workforce needs.

There are several data sources that show just how in demand these jobs really are.

Truck driver openings have consistently been in the top 10 for number of postings in the Employment Department's iMatchSkills (iMS) jobs database. In 2011, there were about 2,300 openings listed with iMS. However, iMS only covers employers that list with the agency. Outside of the Oregon Employment Department (OED), at any given time, there may be up to twice as many openings posted on external job sites.

With such a high volume of job openings, there is far less competition for these jobs. Based on a collection of job posting and applicant data, research by CareerBuilder found a national ratio of 1.37 job seekers per truck driver opening. Compared with OED's Fall 2011 Job Vacancy Survey, which counts about six job seekers per vacancy across all occupations, opportunities seem to be plentiful.

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers came in at number two on the list of highest number of job vacancies, second only to retail salespersons with 1,215 openings reported in fall 2011. In fact, for every OED vacancy survey since 2008, truck drivers have made the top 20 list of occupations with the most reported vacancies.

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 forward by 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.