Business

Truck driving jobs plentiful as economy recovers

Drivers in short supply nationwide as economy spurs the flow of goods

Student driver Peter Kuczkowski showed paperwork to instructor Fran Stevens during the inspection of a tractor trailer.

Chris Christo for The Boston Globe

Student driver Peter Kuczkowski showed paperwork to instructor Fran Stevens during the inspection of a tractor trailer.

Jobs available: Paid training, retirement savings match, health insurance, job security, and annual pay that starts at $43,000 and can climb to $60,000. (Plus you can listen to music while you work.)

Open positions: Approximately 30,000.

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Truckers are in great demand — a sign of an improving economy and growing demand for goods. Newly minted drivers with a commercial license are virtually guaranteed jobs, according to American Trucking Associations, the industry’s largest trade group.

And the shortage is expected to worsen, with more than 100,000 openings expected over the next decade.

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That could be good news for many unemployed Americans, particularly construction, manufacturing, and other blue-collar workers who lost jobs in the last downturn as well as for people simply looking for better opportunities.

Lisa Lariviere, 31, has driven for the A. Duie Pyle trucking company for three years and says she can’t imagine doing anything else. Lariviere, who graduated from Merrimack College with a degree in philosophy, said the $24 an hour she earns — the top rate at the company where she works — is more than she got at prior jobs as cook, landscaper, and emergency medical technician.

She said she likes the freedom of the road, although it limits the time with her family. Her shift starts at 7 a.m. She punches out at 7 p.m, then drives for an hour home to Amesbury, returning too late to say good night to her partner’s 8-year old son.

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“It’s not an easy job,” she said. “It can be really stressful. People are so into themselves and what they’re doing, texting, talking on the phone, they’re not paying attention, so we have to constantly be paying attention.”

Truck drivers are a vital part of the US economy. In 2013, the trucking industry hauled 9.7 billion tons of freight, or 69.1 percent of all US freight, compared to about 15 percent by rail. The trucking federation advertises that everything Americans eat, wear, and use is probably hauled by a truck at some point.

The driver shortage has forced some companies to offer perks, from showers and bunks at fueling stations to gyms and health clinics to paid training.

Truck-driving student Miguel Martinez backed a tractor-trailer to a loading dock.

CHRIS CHRISTO FOR THE GLOBE

Truck-driving student Miguel Martinez backed a tractor-trailer to a loading dock.

A. Duie Pyle, headquartered in West Chester, Pa., typically pays drivers-in-training about $14 an hour while they learn, often recruiting from the company’s warehouse workers. Eventually, they can earn as much as $70,000 a year, with generous benefits, by working 55 to 59 hours a week, said Peter L. Dannecker, director of loss prevention.

The company spends $20,000 to train a driver, housing trainees at the Northborough terminal at no cost during the 10-week program. Dannecker said he is baffled by the difficulty recruiting good candidates, particularly since many of Pyle’s drivers don’t go on overnight trips.

“People are looking for jobs,” he said, “and we’re giving away training.”

One reason transportation companies have difficulty recruiting drivers is the pay has barely risen over the past two decades, said Charles W. Clowdis, the managing director at IHS Global Insight, a Lexington forecasting firm. A new tractor-trailer driver earns $43,000 a year at most, Clowdis said, while average trucker pay runs $50,000 to $60,000 a year.

‘People are looking for jobs and we’re giving away training.”

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For many would-be truckers, that money isn’t worth the lifestyle trade-offs, including long hours of driving, seedy truck stops, time away from family, and high divorce rates, said Clowdis. As in a sad country song, drivers are often sleep-deprived and tobacco-stained.

“As long as there is something marginally better than sitting in that cab,” Clowdis said, “most people are going to take the marginally better” job.

Companies such as A. Duie Pyle are trying to change the image of truck driving. The Northborough facility, opened in 2008, is a sparkling clean, modern office-and-warehouse complex with a truck wash and a maintenance shop nearby.

Peter Kuczkowski, a cabinetmaker from upstate New York, was unemployed for nearly two years before he was hired by A. Duie Pyle and became a trucker-in-training at the transportation company’s service center in Northborough. After nearly two decades of ups, downs, and periodic layoffs in his old career Kuczkowski, 47, was ready for stability. Truck driving offered a steady paycheck, a retirement savings match, health insurance, and paid training

“You get older and you don’t have that many opportunities,” he said, after backing a 70-foot-long semi through a serpentine obstacle course. “It was time to get into something steady.”

Kennedy Odima, another driver-in-training, said he never envisioned becoming a trucker. University trained in Kenya and fluent in several languages, he struggled to find work for more than three years after immigrating to the United States in 2011. Them he heard A. Duie Pyle offered training and pursued the job.

Odima said he plans to drive a truck during the day and work toward a master’s degree in transportation logistics at night and on weekends.

On a recent morning, Odima and Kuczkowski maneuvered their tractor-trailers in, out, and around the orange cones on the Northborough practice course. They spent the afternoon at desks doing classwork.

Kuczkowski said being away from his fiancee, who lives near Buffalo, and his terminally ill father has been difficult. But after his long stretch of unemployment, he feels lucky for the opportunity, he said.

“It’s tough, a lot of work and a learning curve,” Kuczkowski said. “I really hope it’s going to be rewarding.”

Megan Woolhouse
can be reached at megan.woolhouse@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @megwoolhouse.
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