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Competition for skilled laborers and truck drivers has increased after flooding in south Texas, Florida and the Caribbean islands sapped the number of available workers, new studies shows.

A survey by the U.S. Chambers of Commerce and USG Corp. show about 60 percent of construction companies believe they will continue their struggle to hire workers. And data from the American Trucking Research Institute show worker shortages are among the top priorities for trucking companies.

After the recession, nearly 2 million workers left the construction industry. That led the Home Builders Institute to step up its recruitment of 17- to 24-year-olds, and to install programs in high schools around the country to attract students.

"There's already been a dire need for qualified construction workers before Harvey and Irma," said John Courson, director of the Home Builders Institute. "You can imagine what this is going to do -- it's going to ramp up that need."

The trucking industry, too, is making appeals in more high schools nationwide. In Arkansas, the Arkansas Trucking Association deployed an education campaign, "Be Pro, Be Proud," to convince young people that trucking offers a chance to contribute to society while also working with computerized tools.

"The industry has struggled for several years to find enough qualified candidates to fill the positions we have to meet freight demand," said Shannon Newton, the trucking association's president. "Any surge or increase would apply additional pressure. It's a complicated problem, and there's not a single solution."

Brad Delco, an analyst at Stephens Inc. in Little Rock who tracks the trucking industry, said the construction industry is one of the biggest sectors that takes workers from trucking, and said the situations in Florida and Texas may intensify labor shortages.

Both industries have a history of aiding disaster relief. Courson said when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the Home Builders Institute set up two training sites for workers helping in the reconstruction of New Orleans.

Trucking has more barriers to entry than construction and other skilled-labor jobs. An 18-year-old may obtain a commercial driver's license to operate a big rig, but he is not allowed to cross state lines until 21, a restriction that some in the industry say deters people who want to get to work sooner.

With self-driving cars and trucks looming in the future, the trucking industry sees an advantage among millennials: They are more comfortable working with technology.

John Martin, an instructor of diesel truck technology at Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale, said the trucking industry has longed worked alongside computers. There are several trucks that detect a variety of situations while the truck is in motion. He said students who are eager to learn the latest industry trends and technology will be most successful to fill jobs.

"I can send these guys anywhere [to work], just about," Martin said.

Business on 09/20/2017

Print Headline: Storms adding to struggles to hire skilled labor, truckers

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