- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Finding drivers for his small local trucking firm is one of the biggest struggles of Matt Davis’ job.

“We are talking about $60,000-a-year jobs, and I can’t seem to get people to apply,” he said. “With everything going on in the oil fields, it’s a just a real pain to get qualified drivers.”

Davis is the owner of Linehaulers, a firm that runs six trucks out of Cheyenne.

He and many other trucking companies across the state are battling a driver shortage as the demand for jobs in the industry has spiked in recent years.

And it appears the situation is only going to get worse.

A recently released federal report warns that Wyoming, like most of the rest of the country, must prepare for more job growth in the transportation sector.

The study from the U.S. departments of transportation, labor and education projects the country will add 417,000 net transportation jobs from 2012 to 2022 due to industry growth. And that’s not counting the many more jobs that will need to be filled as an aging workforce retires or leaves the industry.

Wyoming, which is projected to see an 18 percent net increase in transportation jobs, is expected to see some of its biggest growth in the trucking sector.

The Cowboy State is expected to see trucking jobs grow by 24 percent during this time period - second only to North Dakota, which is projected to see a 62 percent spike in trucking jobs.

Federal officials say these projections should serve as a warning that states need to be ready for this type of job growth.

“Industry and government must increase recruitment and help young people get the skills, training and apprenticeships they need to gain entry into these careers,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said in a statement that accompanied the release of the report.

Sheila Foertsch, managing director of the Wyoming Trucking Association, said it’s a situation she is closely monitoring.

Foertsch said she has heard of many trucking companies in the state struggling to hire drivers in the past several years.

She told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (https://bit.ly/1EXc9NU ) that the demand for drivers has been fueled by the growth in the state’s energy sector, general population growth and changes in buying habits, such as the increase in online sales.

“Consumers are changing,” she said. “People who shop at brick-and-mortar expect shelves to be filled, and filled just in time. And when you have a big Internet shopping community, such as we have, you have to be able to deliver.”

She said another problem is that many truckers tend to be older and nearing retirement age.

Meanwhile, Foertsch said the industry is struggling to fill those positions with young adults just entering the job market.

She said changing a number of federal regulations, such as lowering the 21-year-old age requirement to transport goods across state lines, would help.

Foertsch added the industry can do a better job of marketing and publicizing the jobs, which usually have high wages and require a relatively short period of training compared to other entry-level positions.

Brenda Birkle, director of the Sage Truck Driving School in Cheyenne, agreed.

“I think we can do a better job of educating the public about what we have to offer,” she said. “To be honest, without going into debt and after five weeks of training, you can make $35,000 to $50,000 or $50,000 to $60,000 driving in the oil fields.”

Birkle said many companies also partner with the driving school to offer free classes in exchange for a commitment that the driver will work for the firm for a period of time.

And she said they are trying to make prospective employees know there are opportunities other than long cross-country trips.

Birkle added that other strategies, such as recruiting veterans, are paying off. But she said there will be more work to do in the coming years.

“We are starting to get more people in,” she said. “But we are not keeping pace with the growth.”

___

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, https://www.wyomingnews.com

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