Demand for truckers picks up with business rebound

Heather Aldrich's cell phone rings nearly every Monday morning with callers seeking to hire her students.

Aldrich owns Nevada Truck Driving School on North Virginia Street, and student enrollment has increased between 30 and 40 percent from 2009 enrollment levels as new students and unemployed workers seek retraining for new jobs behind the wheel of commercial vehicles.

Though the national recession curbed demand for long-haul truckers as freight levels decreased, a rebound in the health of the national economy has resulted in increased freight haulage and subsequent demand for truck drivers. That's good news to the handful of training centers in the Truckee Meadows.

Calvin Aldrich, director of Nevada Truck Driving School, says prospective drivers come from all walks of life, from new drivers to former construction workers, retirees seeking to boost monthly incomes to husband-and-wife teams.

"Contractors, even architects, plumbers, laborers every aspect of construction, we have been getting a whole lot of them," Aldrich says. "We even (trained) a couple airline pilots recently."

Aldrich says the trucking industry serves as a bellwether to the national economy. A turnaround in the state of the economy usually signifies an increase in national freight tonnage and a need for drivers.

"Freight levels are well on their way to picking back up, and a lot of companies that had hiring freezes are now actively recruiting students," he says.

Erin Hogan, chief financial officer for Bender Group, a longtime Reno company that provides warehousing and transportation services, says the contraction in the regional and national economy resulted in sharp drops in national freight levels, forcing thousands of drivers out of the industry. However, Hogan predicts a fairly quick return to the good times when transportation companies often had trouble attracting quality drivers.

"As we head into the summer months, we anticipate an increase in freight levels, and we are concerned that the driver pool will again dry up, forcing companies to raise wages or lower qualifications to keep the wheels moving," Hogan says.

Despite contractions in the industry, northern Nevada training centers have seen little decrease in student enrollment. Large national trucking companies such as Swift Transportation, Gordon Trucking, Werner Enterprises, National Trucking, Prime Inc., and Central Refrigerated Service, Inc. continually seek long-haul drivers, says Arni Ares, owner of Advanced Truck School.

Ares says commercial drivers who are unemployed either choose to be, or they have black marks on their driving records.

"Demand for truck drivers is unbelievable," he says. "Everything you have nowadays involves a truck somewhere. The future is going sky high, and everybody who can pass my school can get a job; we have 14 companies that hire from us."

Training at truck driving schools typically last four weeks, or 160 hours, and costs in the range of $1,400 to $1,800 although Ares says he may have to increase the cost of his training program due to the escalating price of diesel fuel, which has crept above $4 a gallon at the majority of fueling stations in northern Nevada.

Ares says new short-haul drivers start out making average annual wages of $32,000 for logging 2,000 miles week. However, drivers who log 3,000 to 3,500 miles per week take home weekly wages of $1,200 to $1,400. Aldrich of Nevada Truck Driving School says that due to demand, job placement begins the day students enroll in the month-long class.

Although there is still a small amount of regional work available, Nevada Truck Driving School only guarantees jobs for long-haul drivers. However, Aldrich says, those drivers typically start out earning $40,000 per year with benefits.

Students at some driver training schools can earn their commercial drivers license at the training site. Graduates of Nevada Truck Driving School leave the school with everything they need to receive a CDL from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.

Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations of Arlington, Va., says as the economy continues to grow demand for drivers should rise, and substantial increases in freight levels eventually will result in a shortage of qualified drivers. In 2005 the ATA reported a shortage of more than 20,000 long- and short-haul drivers, a shortage that was predicted to grow to more than 100,000 by 2014. The recession, however, curbed demand for drivers.

"We fully anticipate a shortage once we get to higher levels of freight, and it will be as bad if not worse than it's ever been," Costello says. "There are going to be a lot of jobs for people that want to be truck drivers."


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