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Upside/Downside: trucking industry revs up hiring

Flat bed truck owned by TMC. The Iowa company operates a fleet of 2,200 trucks.
Flat bed truck owned by TMC. The Iowa company operates a fleet of 2,200 trucks.

One rule-of-thumb-indicator of how the economy is doing is the number of big rig trucks on the road. And, yes, traffic is up…which means more jobs for truckers.

The way some in the trucking industry put it, job opportunities are "as wide open as a four-lane highway at 3 a.m"….which brings us to this week's edition of upside/downside.


TAMMY: Hi Sean, I'm Tammy, nice to meet you honey...

A recent trucking job fair in a suburb southwest of Cleveland-- featured 17 companies. Tammy Helms is a recruiter for T-M-C -- a flat bed operator with 22-hundred trucks based in Iowa. She says the UPSIDE, of the improving economy is that T-M-C and other long haul companies are actively seeking new drivers.

TAMMY: We're buying new trucks, hiring all the time. We've got orientation dates starting every Monday...guys are making good money.

That's quite a switch from a couple years ago when the recession hit full speed and the trucking industry shifted into reverse.

According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 3,600 companies went out of business in 2008 alone. Now business is so good, says David Bartosic companies can't find enough qualified drivers. Bartosic is a spokesman for the Ohio Trucking Association.

DAVID: The bugaboo that won't go away...a lot of people including the moving industry expect there to be severe shortages as early as this summer.

Wayne Zerucha is one of the beneficiaries of "the shortage." He was a victim of the recession in the construction trades.

WAYNE: We had a company called Modern Pools that we closed up...I just had to find work.

Even before starting truck driving school, Zerucha signed a contract with a trucking company promising to pay him for more than 50-thousand dollars a year upon graduation.

WAYNE: My dad did it, my grandfather did it, it's a dream of mine to do. One door closes and another one opens.

Zerucha's starting salary is about ten grand higher than most starting truckers. That's because he's going to be on the road two weeks at a time -- away from his wife and twin 13-year old boys who live in Columbia Station.

WAYNE: I was just wondering how you guys feel about me being gone during the week?
Kid1: Sad
Kid2 Terrified.
Kid1: sad, not terrified, sad.
kid2: fine, sad.
WAYNE: but what about all this time I've spent home with you not working? Aren't you happy dad got a job now, able to make some money?
Kids: Yes, definitely. We can probably afford bills now.

And Zerucha can thank fellow taxpayers for his reversal of fortune. The federal government is picking up the tab for his tuition - more than four thousand dollars. Stimulus dollars allocated for retraining. According to one report, more of that federal retraining money goes to would-be truckers than to any other occupation. Another beneficiary of the improving economy and the federal largesse is the school where Zerucha is training -- Great Lakes Truck Driving School in Columbia Station. The school's owner is Doris Young.

DORIS: As the economy gets worse and more people get unemployed, usually schools train more people. So I think that's one reason we trained 287 people our first year in business.

Young founded her school in 2008, just as the Great Recession revved up , sending an array of people in search of new careers.

DORIS: Teachers, nurses, social workers, they come from all walks of life. We've trained a couple people who have masters degrees because they want to start their own company.

Young, like many other trucking school operators, says graduates are virtually guaranteed a job upon graduation provided they pass required drug tests and have a clean driving record. But others are skeptical of that claim. Late last year Dan Rather in one of his investigative specials on the cable channel HDNet, found many graduates of such schools in Michigan complaining that they were on "a road to nowhere," that many of the so-called guaranteed job offers turned out to pay as little as half what was promised. And some trucking companies say they are only hiring experienced drivers who got laid off over the last couple years, not newly minted ones

Wayne Zerucha, the former swimming pool worker in Ohio, doesn't seem to be concerned about that. He does worry some though about the adjustments he'll have to make in what is…after all…a pretty difficult job dealing with traffic, deadlines and time away from home.

WAYNE: I'll be doing 48 states, gone for 2 weeks, home every other week. You've got to do what you've got to do to make the money.