As more and more freight is hauled from the Port of Charleston to distribution centers throughout the state, there is a growing demand for drivers with commercial licenses. And legislators are trying to find solutions for a worsening shortage of drivers to fill those jobs.
“The number one issue is getting drivers trained, on the road, with good quality education to get the pipeline going,” State Rep. Jay West, R-Belton. West is Chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee which met Tuesday to discuss the issue.
The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a six percent increase in the demand for commercial truck drivers between 2016 and 2026. And, with the growing manufacturing base in South Carolina, the state is expected to have similar demands for freight and logistics. However, the industry says not enough younger drivers are entering the field to offset older ones who retire.
South Carolina’s Department of Transportation says trucking is the primary mode for freight travel in South Carolina. The agency projects truck traffic will grow by more than 60 percent in the next two decades.
“We do have a drastic shortage there,” West said. “It’s not only within the trucking industry but all commercial drivers, whether it be construction companies, bus lines and others, we’re having issues of a shortage so we’re going to look for ways to address those things.”
Those representing commercial driving businesses, truck driving schools, industries and the Department of Motor Vehicles told the committee some of the problems that need to be addressed to encourage people to consider driving as a career.
“Job prospects for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers with the proper training and a clean driving record are projected to be very good. Because of truck drivers’ difficult lifestyle and time spent away from home, many companies have trouble finding and retaining qualified long-haul drivers. In addition, many truck drivers are expected to retire in the coming years, creating even more job opportunities,” says the National Supply and Demand Summary for the occupation listed on the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce website.
One issue young drivers face is insurance liability. Many insurers set a minimum age for commercial driver liability coverage, discouraging young drivers from finding a job once their training is complete.
“They’ve got their license, they’re qualified but they can’t find anybody to hire them because of insurance reasons or because of the liability that the company stands to bear the burden of if they hire them,” CDL Program Manager for Florence-Darlington Technical College Thomas Pierce said.
“We’ve got to get them through some of these impediments,” Department of Motor Vehicles Executive Director Kevin Shwedo said, noting during his time in the Army, “I’ve got individuals that are soldiers during combat with people shooting at them and I can’t take that kid and put him on the road because I can’t get him insured.”
Other obstacles include finding the money to pay for training. Some potential students have difficulty qualifying for tuition assistance programs or getting loans.
“It really is a funding issue,” LCI Lineberger Construction owner Kim Lineberger said. “Quick money to be able to turn quick jobs.”
Buddy Young, owner of Capitol Tours bus charters in West Columbia, told the panel half of his tour bus drivers are older than 60 years old and he’s having trouble finding young people who want to drive. “The pool is shrinking faster than its growing,” he said.
South Carolina Timber Producers Association CEO Crad Jaynes said the same attention needs to be paid to vocational programs that produce blue-collar workers that is given to science and technology fields.
“We can’t make it sexy,” he said of making truck driving appealing to young people. “We try to. Truck driving is not sexy. A skidder operator in the woods is not sexy but it’s very well-paying jobs.”