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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Brothers Express Inc. trucks line up at the pump Wednesday. It is among companies having difficulty finding quality drivers.

Trucking jobs go unfilled

Industry leaders see growing need but fewer applicants

It’s hard to keep on truckin’ without drivers.

Despite an 8.3 percent national jobless rate in July, trucking companies nationwide are scrambling to find people interested in piloting big rigs. And that’s before an expected double-digit jump in driver demand forecast for the next decade.

Apparently, life on the road isn’t appealing as people are seeking jobs that keep them closer to home.

“We’re hearing the same thing from all carriers,” said Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations of Arlington, Va.

“They’re all in the same boat. You would think with 8 percent unemployment and a chance to make a good wage without a college education (finding qualified drivers) wouldn’t be a problem, but it is,” Costello said.

The trucking industry is expected to add more than 330,000 driver positions from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That represents a 21 percent increase needed to keep the supply chain moving as the economy grows.

The average trucker drives within a 500-mile radius and earns between $37,770 and “the high 40s, but it’s still a blue-collar job that will have you putting your time in on the road,” said Costello, who recently conducted a study collecting data and anecdotal information based on interviews with more than 50 fleets that have 130,000-plus trucks and more than 155,000 drivers and contractors.

“It’s tough out there,” he said.

Even for the more homebound drivers.

For example, workers at Brothers Express Inc. of Fort Wayne typically “make it home every night,” but officials still have to contend with finding quality drivers, said Rick Spice, director of safety and corporate affairs for the company at 3227 Coliseum Blvd. W.

“Some companies will have you out there for weeks at a time,” he said. “We’re not like that. But finding good drivers is still a problem.”

When 35-year-old Bluffton resident Cary Gephart started driving about a decade ago, he had to make a lot of “over-the-road” or long-haul trips that kept him away more than a week at a time.

It was part of paying his dues to learn a trade, said Gephart, who drives for All City trucking, 2713 W. Ferguson Road in Fort Wayne.

“That was during the first two years,” said the married father of two. “Now, I’m home mostly every night.”