RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — If you’re noticing that there may be fewer goods on store shelves it’s not your imagination, a shortage of truck drivers is partly to blame.
With a shortage of more than 61,000 truck drivers nationwide, getting more of them into the system is critical, but there’s more to being a truck driver than learning how to shift gears and make a delivery on time.
Student driver Rick Harrell was doing an under the hood inspection required before he takes a rig on the road at Johnston County Community College’s Truck Driver Training school.
He was one of several dozen students taking the 40-day course that runs Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
That’s just the beginning of the commitment. Becoming a trucker is a lifestyle change.
“This is going to be a job where they make changes and their family has to make changes as far as them being on the road,” said John Freer, the Lead Instructor N.C. Truck Driving training School.
The industry traditionally has relied heavily on men, 45 years of age or older according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
About the same time as the pandemic started, a lot of the older drivers decided to retire and low wages didn’t attract new drivers at a time when delivery shipments were increasing exponentially.
Those factors are forcing the industry to change.
“We’re seeing starting wages at $65-to-$70,000” said Freer. “That’s up from $45,000 a year.”
Roberto Avita is an Army vet who used to be a combat engineer. He’s attracted by the higher salaries.
“Now that I’m transitioning out of the Army, I found this the best route to go while I’m still young,” he said. “I have no family.”
He eventually wants to become an owner operator, but realizes he needs 5-8 years of experience first.
“Eight weeks here isn’t enough to learn whether you want to continue to do this,” said Freer. “By going out with a company that does extended training, it allows you to make your way into the industry safely.”
The industry knows it needs to take a number of steps to address the shortage of drivers.
In addition to bringing in younger men, trucking firms are looking at a huge, untapped workforce that’s traditionally shied away from trucking.
The industry is trying to attract more women.
Women currently makeup about six percent of the truck driving force and at N.C. Truck Driver Training School, they’ve already seen an increase in the number of women interested in driving big rigs.
As the father of four daughters, Freer said, “I’m all for that.”
The current class has three women, and they expect more to join up for classes in the months ahead.