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Trucking shortage persists in Idaho

Boise--Potatoes, onions, beets, and cattle aren’t finding their way to market as easy these days.

There's a truck shortage because of a lack of qualified commercial truck drivers in Idaho and across the nation. 

The American Trucking Association released a report last week showing that driver shortages nationwide will continue to grow this year.  Their report shows that the nation will need least 50,000 drivers just to meet current shipper demands. The association says that in ten years the nation could be 250,000 drivers short. The truck shortage is felt locally.

Idaho Farm Bureau President Bryan Searle is a potato producer out of Shelley. He says prices are good but getting his potatoes to market has been a challenge.

"Everything in this country is shipped by trucks. Think about it, all our food, just about everything in Walmart and Amazon. I can't blame the industry for shortages but there is competition for trucks," said Searle.

The number of truck drivers in Idaho is expected to increase 12.9 percent between 2010 and 2020—that's from 11,803 drivers to 13,232 drivers, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. But the American Trucking Association says there's a still a shortage nationwide and around 96,000 new drivers will need to be hired yearly to keep pace with demand. The median salary for a truck driver in Idaho is over $40,000.

The Idaho unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the nation at 2.9 percent. Economists say that an economy is at full employment is at 3 percent and Idaho is just a handful of states that has a so-called super-hot job environment.

"I've heard that it's improved over the past couple of weeks but there's nothing grand about it. We’re still short, there's a driver shortage and producers need help. We lost a lot of trucks to fertilizer shipments, but we just don’t know how many. It seems to me that truckers are going to where the most money is if its fertilizer they’re there if its something else they are there. You can't blame them for that but we need drivers to get our potatoes to market," said Searle.

Because of the shortage trucking companies are looking to give incentives to recruit drivers in the area. 

Super T Transports in Idaho Falls is offering more money per mile as well as satellite TV in the sleeper cabs of their trucks. Doug Andrus Trucking has stepped it up even further with a free car giveaway. To enter, you need to refer yourself or another driver with a commercial driver’s license to Andrus Trucking.

But those incentives may not be enough for some drivers.

“The rigors that over-the-road truck drivers encounter are such that the younger generations are not coming into the industry in sufficient number to replace retiring drivers,” Fuhriman said. “This lack of backfill is significant by itself. Simply put – there are easier jobs where the worker can be home every night, and not away from family and friends for up to a week or more.”

The College of Western Idaho is working to train new drivers and offers a 15-week professional truck driving program complete with classroom work, topped by simulator training and even a life-like simulation where instructors throw obstacles like bad weather, tire blowouts and traffic obstacles. CWI takes the simulator to high schools and career fairs to let anyone try it out.

But trucking insiders say the hours on the road and all the new rules and regulations have helped contribute to driver shortages in the industry. Federal regulation requires drivers to now have an electronic login account as opposed to the old standard paper logbook.

Lynn Fuhriman, Vice President of Operations for Doug Andrus Trucking in Idaho Falls says there's a learning curve and a cost to complying with this requirement that will have to be passed on to shippers and ultimately the consumer.

 “The driver shortage we are experiencing, and the regulatory pressures we face that makes it very difficult to find new drivers and even harder to predict future conditions,” said Fuhriman.

With all the setbacks, new rules and regulations there are lots of trucking jobs available.  Companies all over the state are offering training programs with hopes of getting new drivers. C.R. England Company is offering training classes and most companies now offer full orientation so drivers can learn the new rules and regulations when they hit the road while salaries continue to rise. But shortages continue across the state.

"This is not good, we need consistency in the potato market and this worries us. We can't go to the rails because that situation is even worse. I think it's going to get worse before it gets better," said Searle.