Robert Boyd quit his job as a bank assistant branch manager to start truck-driving school in September. He graduated in December and landed work behind the wheel of a rig at twice the pay.
Boyd saw opportunities in driving school ads on television, articles in the paper and trucks filling the roads. He enrolled at the Western Area Career & Technology Center, about 25 miles from his Pittsburgh, Penn., home. Demand for its graduates has climbed amid a national driver shortage and a local shale-gas drilling boom that are both boosting competition for drivers.
“Trucks are everywhere, especially on the main highways around here," Boyd said after earning his Class A commercial driver’s license. “I’m 38 and this is it for me. This is how I’m going to retire."
Boyd is riding a wave of job growth at trucking companies as they post payroll increases at more than double the pace of the nation’s workforce since the end of 2010. Demand is being driven by the economic expansion, new regulations that cap driver hours and rising turnover caused by long days and time away from home.
The job-placement rate for the school in Canonsburg, Penn., has never been higher, according to Joseph Iannetti, the center’s director. “There’s a constant demand," said Iannetti. “We place everybody we train, and it’s never been like that before."
The average annual wage for U.S. heavy truck and tractor trailer drivers rose to $39,830 in 2011, up 9.7 percent from five years before, according to the most recent data available from the Labor Department. Average hourly wages increased the same amount during the period to $19.15.
From the end of 2010 through January, trucking companies have boosted payrolls by 8.1 percent, or 102,900 jobs, more than twice the 3.4 percent gain in overall employment, according to Labor Department data released Feb. 1. During the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009, trucking jobs declined at about double the rate of total payroll losses.
And the industry is still more than 125,000 drivers short of what it needs to meet demand, according to FTR Associates, a Bloomington, Ind.-based freight data and forecasting firm. The shortfall probably will more than double at the end of this year to 259,000 drivers, according to an FTR forecast.