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Midstate carrier feels national trucker shortage

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Hampden Township-based Carlisle Carrier Corp. employs nearly 300 people locally. Like many trucking companies, however, the firm is finding it challenging to recruit and retain drivers and mechanics.
Hampden Township-based Carlisle Carrier Corp. employs nearly 300 people locally. Like many trucking companies, however, the firm is finding it challenging to recruit and retain drivers and mechanics. - (Photo / )

Life is tough on the road. That's a key reason why trucking companies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit drivers and other essential staff.

“It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” said Chris Peters, executive vice president of Hampden Township-based Carlisle Carrier Corp.

The competition from other fields, combined with increasing regulations on drivers and stints away from home, are pushing potential new talent away from the industry, Peters said.

Despite the challenges, Carlisle remains among the region’s top-performing private companies, and a big player in Cumberland County. The firm came in at No. 50 on this year’s list of the region’s Top 100 private companies, up one spot from 51 last year. The company’s revenues inched lower, however, dipping 0.97 percent, to $58.7 million. Founded in 1990, Carlisle employs nearly 300 people locally.

National trends

What Peters is seeing is not unique to Carlisle.

While traffic has increased nationwide since the 2008 recession, companies have been finding it harder to fill vacant seats. Combined with an aging driver population, sluggish recruitment threatens to create significant headaches in the years to come.

Industry website Trucks.Com is filled with stories about the nationwide driver shortage.

In an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data last year, Trucks.Com found that truckers aged 45 to 54 made up 29.3 percent of the industry, followed by 35 to 44 (24 percent) and 55 to 64 (20.1 percent), while 6.1 percent were 65 and above. Just 20.5 percent of drivers fell between the ages of 20 and 34, foreshadowing how few younger drivers are in place to take over from older colleagues as they retire or move into other fields.

BLS data cited by Trucks.Com suggested that the nation was already short 48,000 truckers, and that 890,000 positions are expected to open up through 2025.

Another trade publication, Logistics Management, cited a possible generational factor: “Some Millennials would rather be doing something ‘cooler’ than driving a truck for a living,” a March article stated.

Competing for labor

Increasing federal regulations for drivers, limiting how long they can drive in one shift, can prolong trips and make driving for freight haulers even less attractive.

“It’s difficult work: inconsistent times, time away from home,” Peters said.

On the other side, construction jobs, which rely on complementary skills, are a draw for many who might otherwise go into trucking, Peters said, as has been Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry. In both cases, having a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, can open up additional opportunities and better pay, drawing away some who already work in the trucking industry.

Those and other fields also offer alternative opportunities for diesel mechanics, who are essential to trucking companies.

Throw in pay differentials, and trucking becomes an even harder sell. BLS data also cited by Trucks.Com pointed out that the median hourly wage for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was $19.36, compared with a national average of $21.37 for production and nonsupervisory employees in private, nonfarm jobs.

Looking ahead

One key industry group started to see glimmers of hope late last year, though they may be fleeting.

The American Trucking Associations in December reported that the turnover rate at truckload fleets with more than $30 million in annual revenue dropped two points to 81 percent in the third quarter of 2016, the lowest point since the second quarter of 2011.

That watershed came amid softness in the freight economy, however, which was expected not to prevail in the long term.

“Despite the falling turnover rate, carriers continue to report difficulty finding well-qualified drivers, a problem that will not only persist, but which will get worse as the freight economy improves,” said the trucking group’s chief economist, Bob Costello.

The industry, then, has to find new ways to recruit and retain good people. Carlisle and others have been working toward that goal.

Peters said billboards and ads on trucks are a time-honored method, but social media also is growing as a way to reach new audiences.

Scheduling is another factor, and one that has been in Carlisle’s favor.

Because it is a regional carrier, focused primarily on the Mid-Atlantic and New England, Carlisle’s drivers aren’t faced with some of the cross-country runs typical among long-haul carriers.

The company regularly looks at routes with an eye toward providing its drivers with as much home time as possible, Peters said.

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Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at rdupuis@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @rogerdupuis2.

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