Nebraska Facing Truck Driver Shortage

Big rig trucks line up outside a truck stop near Omaha. Due to a nationwide driver shortage, there are close to 40,000 open jobs in the trucking industry. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, KVNO News)
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July 21, 2015 - 6:45am

Every day, we rely on people with a Commercial Driver’s License—or C-D-L—to deliver the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the gas we put in our cars. The Nebraska Department of Labor says by 2018, truck drivers will add more jobs to the state than any other occupation. But finding people to fill all those positions can be a bumpy road.


There’s a truck stop on the outskirts of Omaha that’s more like a truck community. There is a fuel station, but there are also some stores, retail shops, an 18-wheeler church, and two schools which teach the same thing: how to drive trucks.

Brian Ebke is an instructor at one of those schools, JTL Truck Driving. His classroom? The cab of a big rig. His lesson plan for the day? How to handle corners in urban areas, including downtown Omaha.

“No two corners are exactly the same,” Ebke explained, “so you kind of have to learn how to get this long trailer around those corners without bumping this or that or the other thing.”

Geoffrey Sonnemaker said he’s already been through two careers, so he wanted to make sure his third was profitable. According to the Nebraska Department of Labor, a long-haul trucker makes an average of $21.31 an hour. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, KVNO News)

Geoffrey Sonnemaker was one of two students in the 53-foot classroom on wheels.

Sonnemaker said the promise of good work after a four-week course is what attracted him to the trucking industry.

“My options are pretty wide open. Everybody is looking [to hire drivers]. So I’m going to probably submit about 15 resumes, narrow it down to five, and then take my best shot out of those,” Sonnmaker said.

Larry Marsh, the director of JTL Truck Driving, said during recent years, the number of companies looking for drivers has continued to grow.

Marsh said depending on which report you look at, there are about 40,000 jobs in the trucking industry waiting to be filled. In the next ten years, that number could inflate to 240,000.

According to Marsh, it’s not just over-the-road truckers who are in high demand, but any type of job where you might need a commercial driver’s license like drivers for delivery, tow and garbage trucks. Some Omaha residents were directly impacted by the lack of qualified drivers when their trash wasn’t picked up for a week earlier this summer.

The federal government also took notice of the driver shortage, and will now pay for driver training through the Job-Driven National Emergency Grant program, which provides funding to train people for jobs in manufacturing, transportation, distribution and logistics industries.

Larry Marsh is the director of JTL Truck Driver Training in Omaha. He said if all the trucks in the U.S. suddenly stopped running, there would be food shortages in three days, no cash in ATM's in two days, and no large scale emergency medical supplies. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, KVNO News)

“It’s a win-win because the employer isn’t paying for the training and then they’re also getting money to actually get [the new worker] going as an employee for the company," said Mike Eastman, the Nebraska Department of Labor's Regional Workforce Development manager in Omaha.

Eastman said to qualify for help under the grant, a person needs to be either unemployed, a dislocated worker—meaning someone who was or is going to be laid off—or someone who got out of the military in the last three years.

Eastman said there is enough local funding to provide training for around 150 people.

That might not be enough to end the nationwide driver shortage, but Eastman said it would be a game-changer for those 150 people.

“For some job seekers they just wouldn’t be able to come up with the money to do the training,” Eastman said, “or wouldn’t have any kind of advantage to get on-the-job training with a company because [employers] can hire someone that has more experience. So this really opens the door for people and for employers.”

Opening doors by helping people earn their keys to the open road.

For more stories from KVNO News, visit their website.

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