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Drivers wanted: truckers most sought-after employees in Alabama

Published: Nov. 24, 2016 at 2:30 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 24, 2016 at 3:02 AM CST
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(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - In Alabama, truck drivers are the most sought-after employees, and the demand continues to rise.

The Department of Labor reports the number of online ads for drivers has jumped from 46,716 in 2014 to 80,597 a year later.

It might seem like there are a lot of trucks on the highway, but according to the Alabama Trucking Association, we're 80,000 drivers short nationally. Experts say that number will jump to 120,000 by 2020, and that would be crippling.

"America would stop," said truck driver Titus Roberts.

That's because trucks carry many of the things you use every day.

In fact, 86 percent of Alabama communities depend exclusively on trucks to move their goods.

"If you got it, we hauled it. Trucks haul gas, we haul your food," Roberts said. "Walmart does not make food, trucking brings it to the grocery stores, Walmart, Publix, all of these. We haul everything. America needs trucks. Trains can only take it so far, but trucking is the backbone of America."

Roberts, a 21-year trucking veteran, has logged nearly 3 million miles. He loves his job but admits it isn't easy.

"Some of these companies want you to stay gone three, four weeks at a time. I've talked to drivers who stay gone two to three months at a time," Roberts said.

That's one of the many reasons experts say the shortage is growing. The demand and stress are intense. Laws limit truckers to 11 hours on the clock per day within a 14-hour period – no exceptions. Many spend days, weeks, even months away from home. Older drivers are retiring at a fast rate, and the younger drivers aren't filling the void.

Plus, it's dangerous. The Department of Transportation says from 2011 to 2015 there were 38,650 crashes in Alabama involving large trucks, 94 truck drivers were killed.

Despite the difficulties of the job, the average trucker's pay in Alabama is $19.38 per hour.

"I went through four years of college, almost five by the time you get your teaching certificate. I made more as a truck driver than I could ever think about making as a school teacher," Kent Turner said.

Turner is the program coordinator and an instructor for Trenholm State Community College's truck driving training program.

Turner tells his students if they're willing to put in the hours, the job can be rewarding.

He says the number of students wanting to learn the trade is growing. Turner says each term the truck driving classes at Trenholm are full. He recently hired two full-time lab technicians to help with the demand.

"We're doing everything that we can here. We are trying to run at maximum capacity of how many students we can take each time," Turner said.

Marlinda Stinson is a Trenholm student. She retired from the city of Montgomery after working for 23 years as a school crossing guard and decided to do something completely different.

"I never thought I would be behind and doing something like this, but the opportunity and the chance, it came to me. So, I'm looking forward to it," Stinson said.

Stinson isn't your typical driver. A 5-foot-tall female doesn't fit the truck driver stereotype. However, her instructors say more and more women are getting into the field.

Not to mention, trucks are becoming much more accommodating. More trucks are now being built as automatics.

Companies are hoping the more comfortable and easier trucks will lure more drivers.

If you do want to become a truck driver, experts suggest you do your research, look into potential companies and determine if it really is the job for you. Out of the 20 students who complete the course each term at Trenholm, approximately 30 percent find out it isn't the career for them and turn to a different profession.

There are several schools in Alabama that offer truck driver training. According to the Alabama Community College System, these schools offer a program:

Even if you aren't a truck driver, you can do things to keep everyone safe on the road:

  • Respect 18 wheelers and give them the space they need.
  • Pass trucks on the left and don't drive beside them more than necessary.
  • Don't tailgate.
  • Don't slam on breaks. Keep in mind semi trucks are 80,000 pounds and it takes at least the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour to stop.

Copyright 2016 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.