Truck driver demand grows as nation grapples with supply chain issues

New drivers can make $50,000

TAMPA, Fla. – A nationwide truck driver shortage, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is now contributing to wider supply chain issues that are hampering the ability to move goods across the country, industry experts said.

A record 80,000 additional truck drivers are currently needed to meet the nation’s freight demand, according to the American Trucking Associations, with the driver shortage expected to surpass 160,000 in less than a decade.

“If not for truck drivers, nothing really gets across the country. Food isn’t supplied to people. Clothes. Whatever it is,” Rojay Clarke said, a former security guard and bus driver who recently began learning how to drive a semi.

Clarke, 22, is enrolled in a training program offered by Roadmaster Drivers School, a Florida-based company with 17 schools nationwide including Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa.

“I like to say it’s the fastest road to success,” Roadmaster Drivers School President Brad Ball said. “I don’t really know of any other educational opportunity where you can go to school for four weeks at a fairly low cost and end up with a job at the end of training making $50,000 to $60,000 a year, right out of the gate.”

Roadmaster’s placement department connects student drivers with potential employers while they are still learning how to maneuver a big rig.

“We’ve got way more job opportunities than we have students,” Ball said. “Our phones are constantly ringing [with companies] looking for drivers. We constantly have carriers and shippers trying to reach out to us to find out how they can hire more.”

Even before receiving his Class A Commercial Drivers License, Clarke already has a tentative job lined up with Werner Enterprises, one of the county’s largest trucking companies.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Clarke said, who is changing careers because of the numerous opportunities the truck driving industry affords him and his growing family.

“I have one little boy and I have one on the way. I don’t know if it’s a boy or girl yet,” Clarke said. “But I do know that, financially, I’ll be set with this.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trucking industry was already experiencing a driver shortage due, in part, to its older workforce entering retirement. The pandemic accelerated those job departures while also limiting the ability to train new drivers in 2020, according to the American Trucking Associations.

Now that regular training has resumed, Roadmaster plans to open six more schools in the next few months to keep up with the demand, which is partially driven by prospective students seeking to change careers.

“A lot of people lost their jobs in 2020. A lot of people just don’t feel like they’re making enough money, or they can’t count on that job in the future,” said Ball. “Whatever it is, it’s certainly turning out a lot more people in the field for trucks.”

Tuition at Roadmaster is about $7,000 for a four-week course. Financial aid may be available, according to Ball.

“The first week is in the classroom, learning safety learning the general requirements of the road,” Ball said. “And then the second week, you move out here onto a closed range, where you can safely operate [a truck] without any other traffic around. And then once you’re comfortable with that, we gradually move you out on the road with a certified instructor to teach you how to safely operate with the motoring public.”

Once his training is complete, Clarke is eager to take his CDL exam and become a part of the nation’s supply chain.

“It’s not just helping out you, but it’s helping out the entire country as a whole,” Clarke said.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.