Unemployed Turn To Truck Driving

By CityTownInfo.com Staff

February 27, 2009

Truck driving, a notoriously unappealing job which typically faces a shortage of qualified employees and a high turnover rate, is now overwhelmed by applicants as the jobless endeavor to find employment.

The Wall Street Journal reports that trucking companies are seeing a tripling or quadrupling of inquiries from people who historically shied away from truck driving, such as workers in construction and automobile manufacturing. The abundance of applications is the result of an increasing number of unemployed workers as well as a decline in the number of trucks on the road as freight volumes decrease.

Typically, trucking companies often spent millions of dollars every year trying to attract applicants. The industry has been unpopular because few workers could put up with the difficulties of spending weeks away from family on the road, sleeping in a cramped cab and showering at unappealing truck stops. Annual driver turnover was about 100 percent, and companies did their best to lure new drivers with bonuses.

But the economic downturn has radically changed the industry. According to an industry analyst with Avondale partners, an investment banking firm, more than 3,600 trucking companies went out of business in 2008 - resulting in the disappearance of 137,650 trucks from U.S. roads. Additionally, the American Trucking Associations noted that the industry cut 25,000 jobs in January alone.

The recent surge in truck driving applicants is one of the few pieces of good news for the industry. The Journal reports that Swift Transportation Company said it had a waiting list of qualified drivers for the first time in memory. And according to the American Trucking Associations, the turnover rate has dropped from 130 percent in 2005 to 65 percent.

"I've never seen it like this in 24 years, I can tell you," remarked Herb Schmidt, president of Con-Way Truckload in California, in The Wall Street Journal.

In a nod to the trend, student enrollment has increased at California's American Truck School, notes Redding.com. Mike Eslick, an instructor at the school, estimated that about six of every ten new students are people who have been laid off.

In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Scott Sheely, executive director of the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board, told LancasterOnline that the second-highest job demand in the county is for local truck drivers, with nursing in first place.

"We spend a lot of money training truck drivers," Sheely said.

Yet truck driving is not for everyone. The Wall Street Journal notes that Don Hockersmith of Phoenix enrolled in a truck driving school two years ago after losing his job as a superintendant. After landing a driving job, he quit within two months because the conditions were so difficult. He now drives a city bus instead.

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