On the Altoona page of a website, the transportation job openings seem to be shouting at readers.
"Company Drivers Needed Immediately - Solos & Teams!"
"Truck Driver Guaranteed Job! CDL Training Available"
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Tractor trailers pass Altoona heading north Friday on Interstate 99.
"Truck Driver - Company-Paid CDL Training"
It's a symptom of a nationwide trucker shortage - a shortage of as many as 250,000 drivers, by some estimates - that's readily apparent in the Altoona area.
"Each year, we have drivers retiring, and there aren't a lot of young drivers coming in," said Bill Ward, CEO of Altoona-based Ward Trucking.
Those in the field point to several possible causes, including changing education levels, government regulation and an up-and-down economy.
At the heart of the problem, Ward said, is a declining interest in "the trades," the catch-all for skilled, blue-collar jobs.
Students graduating high school are increasingly likely to attend four-year colleges, making truck driving a less appealing option despite an average annual salary of nearly $40,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While each company has its own requirements, all that's required for qualification is a commercial driver's license and, in most cases, a few years' experience with motor vehicles.
"There are fewer young people going into the profession," said Ward, whose company employs about 500 drivers for both long and short hauls.
"Our kids are walking out of here with three, four, five, six job offers," Paul Bulick, director at All-State Career School outside Pittsburgh. "I have way more jobs than I see students."
Compounding the difficulty of an aging workforce is a slate of tighter federal regulations, first implemented in late 2010, that place greater responsibility on the drivers themselves, said Joe Pyzowski, manager at Metzler Bros. Transport in Duncansville.
The federal Department of Transportation's 2010 Compliance, Safety, Accountability system established a point system for truck drivers' licenses. Where in the past drivers' traffic and safety violations were attributed to their employers, today drivers take their mistakes with them - making later employment difficult for some.
In a field where workers often jump from company to company, a few too many license points can stop a trucker in his tracks, Pyzowski said.
"[A trucker] always thinks there's something better on the horizon," he said. "Those drivers either learn or leave the system."
And many experienced drivers in their 30s, 40s and 50s have been in the field too long to easily pick up on new regulations, he said.
The federal rules can be a double-edged sword for trucking lines: A more stringent license system keeps companies updated on their employees, but the drop in interest has only exacerbated the worker shortage, Pyzowski said.
Meanwhile, long-rising gas prices have forced some companies to squeeze more out of each haul, extending drivers' stretches away from home.
Where a long-haul driver might have been on the road for three days a few years ago, Pyzowski said, he might now find himself away from home for seven days or more.
For young people, particularly those considering college, nights spent far from home in a sleeper cab aren't likely to sound appealing.
"It's more tough now on the drivers than it used to be," he said. "They're hard to find."
The full extent of the trucker shortage has been masked by the slow economy, Ward said - as conditions improve and more goods are shipped, the situation could get worse.
"It's already starting to raise its head a little bit," Ward said.
The shortage will only be reversed when freight demand pushes drivers' salaries higher, he said.
A college student today might scoff at the thought of driving a tractor-trailer, but he might think otherwise if he would make $60,000 a year, Ward said.
Could that really happen?
"I think at some point, it has to," Ward said. "We haven't really had the total effect yet."
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.