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Trucking jobs abound, but applicants are few

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Tribe Transportation, a growing company, just added 10 trucks to its tractor-trailer fleet. The problem has been hiring drivers.

So far, the company has filled four of the jobs. The hires are mostly veteran truckers in their 50s, men who probably won’t spend many more years behind the wheel, said Matt Handte, executive vice president.

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‘‘It blows my mind that I’m looking for that many people and I can’t find them,’’ said Handte, who’s also struggling to hire logistics brokers, who line up transportation for customers such as PepsiCo and General Mills.

Even amid high unemployment, trucking companies have had a tough time hiring young drivers willing to hit the road for long hauls. Now the United States is speeding toward a critical shortage of truck drivers as the economy recovers and demand for goods increases, an expert in the inner workings of supply chains said in a report Tuesday.

US companies are expected to create more than 115,000 truck driver jobs per year through 2016, but the number of Americans being trained to fill those jobs each year is barely 10 percent of the total demand, said Page Siplon, executive director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics.

‘‘Trucking accounts for how we move 80 percent of cargo in our nation,’’ said Siplon, whose center is part of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. ‘‘If we don’t have enough workers, it’s going to be slower and more costly to move products. If I can’t move as much product to the shelves as I want to, the cost to consumers goes up.’’

Siplon looked at a range of supply-chain jobs — from truck drivers and warehouse workers to air cargo supervisors — using career-specific employment forecasts by the US Department of Labor and comparing those numbers with Education Department statistics showing how many degrees and certifications for those jobs are being earned each year.

The results found truck drivers will account for 43 percent of expected growth in logistics jobs, but those will also be the positions with the fewest workers trained to fill them.

That doesn’t surprise Tom Pronk, vice president of recruiting for C.R. England, a Utah company that employs 7,500 truck drivers who deliver foods from companies like Hershey, Nestle, ConAgra, and Coca-Cola to retailers.

‘‘Everybody I talk to is very thirsty for drivers,” he said. “My personal opinion is it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.’’

The Department of Labor says the median yearly wage for tractor-trailer drivers is $37,770, with some earning more than $57,000. Handte and Pronk said some drivers can clear $100,000 a year.

Both men said older drivers are feeling pressured to retire by 2010 federal regulations that keep a closer watch on drivers’ work hours, drug testing, and traffic citations.

And the job can be hard to sell to younger workers, who don’t think it’s worth the money to spend days and weeks on the road.

‘‘For our new generation who’s coming into the industry, the job is not as romantic to them as it was to their predecessors,’’ Pronk said.

Truck drivers need a commercial driver’s license. That can take a month or longer of classes costing $3,000 or more.

‘‘It is truly a special breed,’’ said one new driver, David Sheehy, 32, of Greely, Colo.

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