Southwestern Oregon is predicted to have more than 1,700 jobs in the transportation industry by 2027, and businesses are working together to make sure those jobs are filled.

The Oregon Employment Department predicts truck drivers will be the most in-demand job that doesn’t require a college degree. It pays a median wage of $18.80, 20 cents higher than Oregon’s median wage.

Umpqua Training and Employment President Susan Buell made it her organization’s mission to connect potential employees with employers who have the biggest need, and she’s seen firsthand the need for more truck drivers.

“What are the needs of this community, and how can UT&E fill the gap — how can we help with that?” Buell asked. “The transportation industry has an acute need; not only is it acute, it’s huge. It really started with: What is it we need?”

She is following a five-part strategy: raise awareness of industry needs, raise capital for training scholarships, recruit non-traditional trainees, provide class schedules that meet trainees’ and businesses’ needs, and update Umpqua Community College’s training fleet.

“There will never be enough public money to make a difference, so the private sector stepped up big time to be part of this whole process. Not just in funding scholarships, but they had to be the focal point,” Buell said. “They gave me my marching orders. I believe it’s a model for at least the southern region, and maybe a model with the state on how you meet an acute need.”

Buell and the six businesses that partnered with her raised almost $500,000 for scholarships, training and employment services, and a new truck. One of those partners is A&M Transport in Glendale, owned by Andrew Owens.

“The model has been broken on the way truck driving has been addressed ... The truck driving school has been driving the bus, so to speak,” Owens said. “They shouldn’t have to drive the bus. The industry, the companies, are the ones who should be saying to the school, “What do you need for support?” It’s up to the industry to put together a foundation so we can support the needs of the training facility.”

Umpqua Community College hosted a fundraiser in November to raise funds to buy a second truck at a discount from Freightliner Northwest.

“We started looking at the fleet of trucks the truck driving school had. The maintenance on them was killing their budget,” Owens said. “They decided it was their turn to buy a truck.”

He helped Buell achieve the last part of her strategy by getting a 2015 Freightliner Cascadia test truck donated from Daimler Trucks. Daimler told Owens they were donating the truck on Jan. 15. The truck is valued at $80,000 and has only 19,000 miles on it.

“Daimler decided they would donate a truck free of cost,” Owens said. “They said if Freightliner Northwest was going to get involved, they would get involved.”

He will present the truck at the annual Oregon Trucking Association meeting at Seven Feathers Casino on Thursday. The Daimler truck has an automatic transmission and the Freightliner Northwest will have a manual transmission, which will open up more possibilities for trainees.

“A lot of trucking companies are shifting their fleets to automatic transmissions,” Owens said. “I think that’s getting to be the norm with a lot of trucking companies. There’s a lot of people, that the thought of a 13-speed transmission scares them to death. We want to make it so people who are not really mechanically minded can come in and get a CDL. That’s what we were focused on.”

Buell said every transportation company is struggling to find CDL drivers, so she is looking for alternative employee pools, including people on parole or probation, veterans, people unsatisfied with their current jobs and women.

“Nationwide and in Douglas County, only 6 percent of the drivers are female,” Buell said. “We’re focusing on four different populations in recruitment. We knew that recruiting the same old way, there wouldn’t be enough people. Really, we want people who see this as a career. I know it changes people’s lives, and we want to meet the need of businesses in Douglas County.”

Owens said the predicted increase of 105 trainees in the next year and a half could potentially keep employment steady as people retire. He said the industry needs a bigger push to bring in new people but companies will most likely struggle. Either there will be a lack of employees, or there will be too many new drivers, pushing up insurance costs.

“It’s a hard, hard life, but you can make it what it is,” Owens said. “Douglas County, we’re kind of different critters here because a lot of the truck driver’s jobs available, they’re day jobs or night jobs. You’re not gone for a long time. If you’re going to grow your fleet, you’re going to have to go homegrown.”

Seventy percent of all freight delivered in the U.S. is delivered by trucks, according to the American Trucking Association. Buell said that number won’t go down anytime soon, and she wants to help solve to issue now.

“The interesting thing is how things have fallen into place,” Buell said. “Once we’ve asked we have not been turned down, and that is a great thing. We’re at the point now where we’re inviting more people in. Then the next phase is the sustainability piece and how it is we invite even more businesses in.”

Janelle Polcyn can be reached at jpolcyn@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow her on Twitter @JanellePolcyn.

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Business reporter

Janelle Polcyn is the business reporter at the News-Review, graduated from the University of Texas, and is a podcast enthusiast.

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