A shortage of workers: truck drivers are needed statewide, and Alaska pays higher than average.

Author:Bohi, Heidi
Position:ATA SPECIAL SECTION
 
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At a time when Alaska's freight volumes are increasing, the result of a strong construction industry, profitable oil-patch and big-retail expansions, Alaska's trucking industry finds itself faced with a shortage of truckers to deliver the goods, the result of an aging work force ready to retire.

Part of a nationwide trend, the driver shortage comes as the trucking industry is hauling more freight than ever. Total annual tonnage hauled by truck is expected to increase to 13 billion tons by 2016 from 9.8 billion tons in 2004. According to the United States Department of Labor, there are 3.5 million professional drivers nationwide. The trucking industry says it will need 539,000 new truck drivers over the next nine years and the long-haul trucking sector alone will need 1.62 million in the next six years, currently short about 20,000 drivers, a shortage that is expected to soar to 111,000 by 2014, the same time 219,000 drivers hit retirement age.

If current demographic and market conditions continue--and they're expected to--because trucking is not a self-contained industry, the nation's economy ultimately will feel the pinch of the driver shortage. The American Trucking Association (ATA) also estimates that the annual demand for truck drivers outpaces supply by about 20,000 drivers, or 1.5 percent of the 1.3 million long-haul truck drivers working in the United States.

TRAINING PROGRAMS NEEDED

Although the industry agrees that Alaska needs to be gearing up training and educational efforts that will produce truckers and other industry professionals who can replace the large number of Alaska tradesmen on their way out of the work force, so far not much has been done by the trucking industry or educational institutions that will prepare the state for the current deficiency.

To date, Alaska trucking companies are doing what they can to develop their own training programs that are tailored to their policies, needs and areas of specialization, but there is not a standardized career track for the industry.

While the Alaska Trucking Association has identified the development of the gas pipeline as its top priority, at the same time they--along with other industries that are intertwined with trucking--acknowledge that they are nowhere close to being ready to meet the needs of a mega-project while also trying to keep up with the demand of their regular business load.

At an estimated cost of $30 billion, the 48- or 52-inch natural gas pipeline...

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