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Oil, gas boom brings increase in commercial driving jobs in the Crossroads

By ALLISON MILES
Oct. 1, 2011 at 5:01 a.m.
Updated Oct. 2, 2011 at 5:02 a.m.

With activity in the oil and gas industry increasing, the demand for truck drivers is growing. Workforce Solutions has a listing of more than 280 job openings.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

For more information about Victoria College's Truck Driving Training course, visit victoriacollege.edu/truckdrivingtraining or call 361-582-2528.

For information on training or job opportunities through Workforce Solutions of the Golden Crescent, visit gcworkforce.org or call361-578-0341.

On a table inside a tiled hotel lobby sat a mountain of paperwork, folders and uncapped pens. Behind that mountain was a man in orange rattling off job and paperwork requirements to an invisible person on the other end of the cell phone.

He jotted notes, gave a quick goodbye and hung up, just in time to take another call.

The man was Joe Phillips, enterprise recruiting manager for Schneider National. And scenes such as his are increasingly common as oil and gas brings truck driving jobs to the Crossroads.

Signs of the boom span beyond online job postings, said Carole Kolle, director of Workforce Solutions of the Golden Crescent. They're evident on billboards, signs and other venues companies use to advertise.

Workforce Solutions has more than 280 commercial truck driver openings, a substantial increase from previous years, she said. That spans a variety of jobs, from delivery positions to oil and gas.

"It's definitely more than we have ever had before," she said, noting the center offers training and assistance to those who want to become drivers. "It's humongous."

The Victoria College's Truck Driving Training Course also felt the tug and expanded to its Gonzales center to meet with the influx, said Sherri Pall, the college's director of workforce and continuing education. Now, the college hosts one five- to six-week course in Victoria, the next in Gonzales and so on, she said.

Enrollment fluctuated in the past but has remained steady since the latest oil and gas boom began, Pall explained. Victoria College expects that demand to continue at least until a pipeline is completed, lowering the demand for transport by truck.

"I've been telling people the oil field is literally booming with truck driving activities," she said.

Robby Burdge is owner and CEO of Klean Corp International, a company that provides chemistry and maintenance services for the oil and gas industry.

He estimated the industry has seen a 40 percent increase over last year, and that isn't solely within the Crossroads. He's doing more work nationwide than in the past.

Although Klean Corp subcontracts its transportation services out, he said his company still feels the effects of the growing need for truckers.

"It's a supply-and-demand issue, that's for sure," he said, explaining rates increased and trucking companies require more lead time before filling jobs. "It's a strain everywhere now, but it's a good strain."

The real problem, Burdge said, is that drivers seem to shuffle from company to company, rather than new blood entering the region. Many vendors say it's difficult to find trained, qualified workers.

Regardless of strain, he said the industry increase bodes well for the region.

"It's blessings abound," he said. "Victoria is meeting the need, but it's difficult. But if it was easy, everybody would do it."

As for Phillips, Schneider National recently updated its practices to meet with the energy boom.

Previously, Schneider's niche was hauling petroleum byproducts, such as what goes into cleansers and solvents, he said. About six months ago, however, several companies asked Schneider if it would consider oil and gas.

After some research, updated equipment and employee training, Schneider went forward, he said, and began a major hiring trend.

Thus far, Phillips said he had spoken with 243 potential drivers and hired 22. Another 45 are undergoing background checks, drug screenings and orientations.

First-year drivers have potential to make $50,000 a year, plus full benefits after 90 days, he said. For experienced drivers, pay can reach $65,000.

Schneider recruits from out-of-state, too, he said, noting many applicants are from Florida.

"In Florida, anything past Orlando is like the kiss of death for drivers," he said. "You've got orange juice and tin cans. You've got to go where things are happening in the the trucking area."

But new drivers aren't his company's sole focus.

"We plan on even opening a Victoria office," Phillips said, noting that would mean mechanics, office staff and more, in addition to the drivers. "It's in the works as we speak. This is long term for us."

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