- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

FORT DODGE, Iowa (AP) - In the trucking industry, technology is driving change.

Todd Smith, chief operating officer at Decker Truck Line Inc. in Fort Dodge, told The Messenger (https://bit.ly/1T6YElj ) that by the end of 2017 it will be mandated that all trucks have electronic logs. Paper logs will no longer be accepted.

This change in technology has made it a difficult transition for some of the older truckers, who account for a large percentage of drivers.

Smith said the average age of the driving force today is an estimated 57 years old.

“Some of those drivers might be used to the paper logs, so that change is creating anxiety,” he said. “Some of those drivers are getting out of the industry.”

Stricter emissions standards on trucks are also having an impact.

Decker Truck Line Inc. recently put an order in for several hundred new Peterbilts, most of which use automatic transmissions and burn cleaner fuel, Smith said.

“Our fleet is going to be one of the youngest fleets in the country,” he said.

Smith said trucking is vital to the health of the economy.

“The trucking industry is about a $600 billion industry,” he said. “Out of $600 billion, about 75 percent of that is delivered on what we call a truckload, which is a full truckload of freight, which is what Decker is involved in.”

“When you go to the store, any store, a truck delivered it,” he added. “So if the truck industry is healthy, the economy is healthy.”

Recognizing the importance of truckers, Smith said it’s important to treat them with respect.

“Our focus at Decker is that we believe driver is king,” he said. “Our drivers are the most important part of the team here, and we firmly believe that.”

The industry is also trying to battle through a shortage of truckers throughout the country.

“Right now depending on what you read or who you believe, we have a shortage of about 96,000 drivers overall,” Smith said. “The challenge that we have is that the average age of a driver is 57, and those drivers are retiring. We aren’t replacing those drivers fast enough. More are retiring than coming in and that is creating somewhat of a gap.”

Jeff Frank, director of the Iowa Central Community College Transportation Technology Center, said the problem with the shortage of truckers can be solved with better retention.

“If we improve retention, we improve our turnover rate and that means we don’t need to hire as many people,” he said.

Part of achieving better retention begins with proper training.

At 390 hours, Iowa Central’s trucking school is one of the longest Professional Truck Driver Institute programs in the nation, according to Frank.

“The more drive time and practice they get, the better they will be when they leave,” he said.

Frank said some schools are shorter, but the results aren’t as good.

“Anybody can get the job,” he said. “If I can breathe on the mirror and fog the mirror, I can get the job. I need the skills to retain the job because if I don’t have the skills, I’ll be terminated.”

A simulation lab with $274,000 worth of equipment is one tool used by Iowa Central to prepare students for real-life driving situations.

The simulators can test students in a wide variety of vehicles, across different types of terrain and in almost any weather condition.

They have a front windshield, two side windows and mirrors, just like in the trucks.

Frank said the simulators can be used on students who are learning how to shift.

“The simulation gives students practice without tearing up a truck,” he said. “Learning to shift is really hard on transmissions.”

Frank, who has spent 37 years in the industry, said the business has changed since he first got behind the wheel.

“The biggest thing I see is that it’s a very fast paced industry now,” he said. “There’s a lot more pressure now than what we had. I had somebody show me how to drive. Now today because of the cost of insurance and equipment they want people to have training.”

The training offered at Iowa Central has earned a reputation as being one of the best in the country.

Several students from out of state have enrolled in the program.

Students from Alaska, North Carolina, Colorado and Missouri have made their way to Fort Dodge for Iowa Central’s trucking program.

Reggie Watson, of St. Louis, Missouri, said he had a friend who recommended Iowa Central’s trucking school to him.

“I heard it was a good school,” he said.

Watson said traveling has always appealed to him.

“It’s something I’ve always been interested in doing,” he said. “Just driving cross country was something I knew I wanted to do.”

Said Aldin, 31, of Des Moines, said he likes how Iowa Central teaches their students.

“I like the program and how they teach,” he said. “It’s a full program. They teach you good.”

Frank said students in the program have an opportunity to be comfortable financially.

“This is a good career,” he said. “I never had to worry about if I was going to make enough money for my bills. There’s good benefits. Most students are going to get tuition reimbursements. How much better could it be?”

___

Information from: The Messenger, https://www.messengernews.net

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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