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February 7, 2013

Job seekers find a big rig pays off

Robert Boyd quit his job as a bank assistant branch manager to start truck-driving school in September. He graduated in December and landed work behind the wheel of a rig at twice the pay.

Boyd saw opportunities in driving school ads on television, articles in the paper and trucks filling the roads. He contacted recruiters and enrolled at the Western Area Career & Technology Center, about 25 miles from his Pittsburgh, Penn., home. Demand for its graduates has climbed amid a national driver shortage and a local shale-gas drilling boom that are both boosting competition for drivers.

"Trucks are everywhere, especially on the main highways around here," Boyd said after earning the Class A commercial driver's license that helped him become an equipment operator for an energy company. "I'm 38 and this is it for me. This is how I'm going to retire."

Boyd is riding a wave of job growth at trucking companies as they post payroll increases at more than double the pace of the nation's work force since the end of 2010. Demand is being driven by the economic expansion, new regulations that cap driver hours and rising turnover caused by long days and time away from home.

The job-placement rate for the school in Canonsburg, Penn., has never been higher, according to Joseph Iannetti, the center's director.

"There's a constant demand," said Iannetti, who has been training drivers since 1978. "We place everybody we train, and it's never been like that before."

The average annual wage for U.S. heavy truck and tractor trailer drivers rose to $39,830 in 2011, up 9.7 percent from five years before, according to the most recent data available from the Labor Department. Average hourly wages increased the same amount during the period to $19.15.

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