Unemployment’s silver lining

Published 7:50 pm Wednesday, August 1, 2012

With the nation’s economy sputtering along and the specter of sequestration adding to the worries in areas like Hampton Roads that have a heavy concentration of defense-related industries, the nation’s unemployment rate remains stuck above 8 percent, and experts see no relief in sight.

But there continue to be bright spots on the employment front, industries that — even in the face of all the bad news — continue to see shortages of qualified workers, and that fact should give jobless people in the area hope.

One of those industries is trucking, and that could be especially good news for people in Suffolk willing and able to learn a new skill. The American Trucking Association estimates the shortage of long-haul drivers will reach 111,000 positions by 2014, and the pinch is already being felt locally. Century Express, a Suffolk trucking company said this week that it could use 15 more owner-operated trucks to haul goods to and from Hampton Roads’ ports for shipper clients.

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As the warehouses and distribution centers of Western Tidewater begin to come online, and as the ports begin to see the expected increase in traffic associated with the widening of the Panama Canal, the need for truckers in Hampton Roads is only expected to rise. Many of the containers delivered to and from the ports will be shipped via rail, but trucking is still expected to be a huge part of the transportation mix.

Tidewater Community College offers a curriculum to teach people to drive tractor trailers, and officials at Century Express suggest there’s plenty of work to go around for drivers with a good record. The staffing company ManpowerGroup published a survey that seems to confirm the claim, noting that jobs for truck drivers are the sixth-hardest ones to fill in America today.

Rounding out the Manpower top 10 are skilled trades, engineers, IT staff, sales representatives, accounting and finance staffers, mechanics, nurses, machinists and teachers. That list includes a fair mix of blue-collar and white-collar jobs and should serve as a start for many motivated people who have been unemployed for an extended period.

It can be very hard to find the silver lining in today’s economy, but the needs of the trucking industry prove it’s there for folks willing to look hard enough.