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Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024
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Drivers REALLY Wanted; Trucking Cos. Look to Fill Positions

It’s Tuesday morning and Stan Ferdyn is holding his regular recruiting meeting in an office building off San Diego Mission Road. He meets a lot of potential employees here, trying to convince at least a few of them to climb into big-rig cabs and take freight across the United States.

Ferdyn works for Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based CRST International Inc. He has a miniature 18-wheel truck on his desk, highway maps of the United States on the walls, and today, two people wanting some more information on becoming drivers.

I am back in familiar territory.

I was here toward the end of 2005, reporting on the trucking industry’s search for recruits.

A lot has happened since then. Lehman Brothers fell, the government decided that major banks were too big to fail, and the United States endured a recession. Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan surged forward.

Though times have changed, one issue remains the same. Now, like then, there is a driver shortage.

The American Trucking Associations recently reported that annual turnover among large truckload carriers stood at 92 percent during first quarter 2014. Four years ago, turnover was 34 percent. With an improving economy, it seems that people who drive trucks for a living have more job options.

The ATA forecasts that between now and 2024, the industry will need 97,000 people to take truck driving jobs. There are several reasons for this, including an improving economy and the graying of the workforce. The average age at many fleets is over 50, the ATA said.

CRST draws people to its local hiring events using the San Diego Craigslist job board. Its competitors post notices there too. They include Knight Transportation Inc. (NYSE: KNX) and Swift Transportation Co. Inc. (NYSE: SWFT), both from Phoenix. Swift has a facility in Otay Mesa, while the other two carriers operate out of the Inland Empire.

“You get to see America and get paid for it,” Ferdyn told his listeners. Recruiters are able to tap into this romantic idea of the open road, which I see. Swift’s hiring website has an illustration of two smiling truckers, one in a white cowboy hat, Pendleton shirt, bandana, blue jeans and a big belt buckle — there’s a romantic image that’s gotten a lot of mileage.

Say what you will. In the end, driving a truck is a job, and work is never 100 percent fun or romantic. I’ve only been in a few situations where truck drivers get together, but they seem to like trading on-the-job horror stories. One of the drivers at the hiring event told about a former employer who assigned him a tractor that had cat hair all over the interior.

A representative from Con-way Inc. said his business is affected by a driver shortage, but not in San Diego. The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based carrier has a facility on Kearny Mesa with 57 drivers, and it’s in the process of hiring two more. Spokesman Gary Frantz said Con-way (NYSE: CNW) recently increased its workforce, hiring eight drivers and four dock workers, to address continuing growth and fill open positions.

With the prospect of driver churn, companies such as CRST say they are putting more attention into driver retention. One of the promises CRST holds out is guaranteed time home. The business requires extended periods on the road, but it promises drivers a schedule with 20 days on and then 10 days off.

I like the fact that Ferdyn’s office is in walking distance of another famous road. More than 200 years ago, the Spanish padres came and went from Mission San Diego de Alcala, some headed to other missions up the California coast. Father Serra and company were also traveling long distances, far from home, and while they did not have air conditioning, they were lucky in many respects. They weren’t asked to drive in truck cabs full of cat hair.

Send San Diego logistics news to bradg@sdbj.com.

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