Two new drivers passed the test for their Class A commercial driving licenses at Umpqua Community College last Tuesday. Even as they join the ranks of 3.5 million truck drivers across the country, companies are crying for more.
Before they even finished the four-week program, both Albert Blankenship and Nick Davis had jobs lined up, and both also received multiple job offers.
Blankenship spent 22 years driving a tow truck before taking the class to get his CDL and got a job with a national company as a long-haul driver.
“I was tired of driving a tow truck,” Blankenship said. “Driving is what I do. It’s a little bit different from towing, but not a whole lot. It’s about 53 feet longer and it’s about 70,000 pounds heavier.”
Most trucks are limited to 80,000 pounds on the interstate which, in ideal weather conditions, will take at least the length of more than a football field to come to a complete stop from highway speeds.
Despite spending days in the truck and being away from home, Davis’ family approved of him becoming a truck driver.
“It’s not easy,” Davis said. “You’ve got to want to do it. It’s a sacrifice, it really is, especially when you have a wife and kids.”
Davis drives past Roseburg on his trips from Nevada to Washington and said he wishes he could stop in and see his family, but he keeps trucking. His wife, Cassidy Davis, was the one who told him he would be good at it and it would be better for him in the long-term. Before he even took the test, he had a letter of intent to hire from a company in Nevada.
“My wife had my back,” Davis said. “My kids, I have three kids, they are a big part of it, I got approval from them to move forward.”
There were 24,289 truck drivers in Oregon in 2017 according to the Oregon Employment Department. The department expects an increase of 270 openings every year for the next 10 years. Nationwide, the industry was short by 50,000 drivers in 2017, according to the American Trucking Association.
Jim Smalley, the owner of Smalley Trucking in Sutherlin, had a few months when a few of his 17-truck fleet sat idle while he competed with other companies for drivers.
“It’s very common for every trucking company to have trucks sit in a yard with no drivers for them,” Smalley said. It does cause some anxiety for the owners because the payments go on whether the truck is moving or not.”
Smalley said the shortage comes from older drivers leaving the industry and the younger generation not seeing it as an option.
“I’m not sure why, because the pay structure is a lot higher than it used to be,” Smalley said.
Smalley is currently set with drivers, but he is looking to build his fleet up in the next two years and is going to be trying to lure drivers in again.
“Most of my guys are home on the weekend,” Smalley said. “It gives them a little bit of a life out of the truck. Every company is doing their best to enhance the pay and benefit packages for truck drivers. It costs a lot to live. A truck driver should make enough to live a good life.”
Smalley believes in building trust with his drivers and making them feel important to the company. Part of the trust is giving them a space in the facility just for them that they can always access.
The annualized turnover rate for fleets with more than $30 million in annual revenue was 94 percent in the first quarter of 2018, according to the ATA. The rate dropped from the previous quarter at smaller carriers, but was still 73 percent.
Judy Ode, program director for the UCC truck driving program, said students coming through are expected to get several offers.
“If you have your CDL and you put in 20 applications, you’ll probably have 20 job offers,” Ode said. “We can’t train them fast enough.”
The program is four weeks of classroom learning and driving practice which includes an overnight ride.
It costs approximately $4,471, according to the website, but Ode said most students get outside funding from community partners and independent companies.
“We had room for nine [students each] in the last three classes and had eight in each, so pretty full,” Ode said. “As long as we have funding, we pretty much have full classes. We’re trying to come up with creative ways to add in some additional time.”
Since July, she’s had just over 30 students, but has room for more than 90 students next year. The last class of 2018 ended on Tuesday and the next class will start Jan. 14.