MARINETTE COUNTY, Wis. — Through the pandemic, the essential services of the transportation industry kept our daily lives as normal as possible.

Despite growing demand for truckers, local Wisconsin trucking companies like Veriha Trucking have seen felt the impact of a national driver shortage.  

Veriha Trucking president Karen Smerchek said there’s a growing gap between the number of drivers retiring and the number entering the industry, causing the shortage. However, new recruitment strategies like appealing to new high school graduates may help fill those positions over time. 

“We do think there’s opportunity for those individuals right out of high school,” Smerchek said. “However, because of the flexibility of this job and the downtime, there are people that go to college full time and drive trucks.”

Currently, to be trained for and hold a Commercial Drivers License (CDL), applicants must be at least 18 years of age, but to drive interstate — which companies like Veriha require — drivers need to be 21. 

Many times, that requirement leads interested high school graduates to look another direction when searching for a job.  

However, with program initiatives and access to training for CDL certification, companies are optimistic about recruiting and keeping trucking as a viable career. 

“People are leaving the industry faster than they are coming into the industry” Smerchek said. “This country wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for a truck driver. Everything that’s on a shelf has touched a truck at some point.”

Drivers like Jason, who oversee the safety side of training, has trained more than 100 drivers at Veriha Trucking. 

“It’ s a place where our team members come,” he said. “We have a classroom here where we do our education and once we have an opportunity we get out on the trucks.”

As someone who recently changed professions, he’s an advocate for people giving trucking a real chance as a developing career.

“Maybe they look it it as a job opportunity, [but] how they really should focus on it is as a career opportunity. Its a profession, drivers out there are professionals, and its a type of career you can spend 30 or more years in, and we see that in our own fleet,” he said.