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Alabama sees shortage of nurses, truck drivers

The improving economy has increased the demand for more truck drivers, trucking stakeholders said.

By PATRICK McCRELESS,The Anniston Star
The Associated Press


ANNISTON, Ala. — Calhoun County has a need for more nurses and truck drivers, local industry experts say, part of a statewide shortage in those occupations due to higher demand and lack of skilled workers.

According to the Alabama Department of Labor, registered nursing was the occupation with the most job openings in the state in March. The heavy truck industry had the second most job openings in the state in March. Local health and trucking industry experts say jobs in both occupations are usually available and growing in the area due to improvements in the economy, higher demand and a lack of skilled workers.

"It has always been an issue ... we always have openings," David McCormack, CEO of Regional Medical Center in Anniston, said of nurses. "We're fortunate we have staff that can work overtime."

At any given time, RMC is down by between 15 and 20 nurses and that gap is growing, McCormack said.

The Labor Department statistics show there were 2,009 available registered nursing positions in March across the state. The number of open nursing positions had grown from March last year, which had 1,797 jobs available. Nursing was also the occupation with most open positions in the state last year.

Similarly, the trucking industry saw an increase in open positions in the same period — with 1,975 available jobs in March across the state compared to 1,690 available jobs last year.

Other occupations with a significant number of jobs available in March around the state included retail sales with 1,567 openings and customer service representatives at 923 openings.

"We're usually able to cover all the holes but there are times when things get really tight," McCormack said of the lack of nurses.

McCormack said RMC has about about a 15 percent average turnover rate, but that is not what is driving the constant and growing lack of nurses at the hospital. He said increased demand is partially responsible for the lack of nurses.

"There are more older people to take care of," McCormack said.

McCormack said the rising demand of health care has also increased the need for nurses to do more types of work.

"Historically, most nurses just took care of patients," McCormack said. "Over the years, we have nurses now who don't give any patient care."

McCormack said RMC has five nurses now who do nothing but train other hospital faculty in how to use the facility's new electronic records system.

"And they have to do all the administrative-type work with that," McCormack said.

Greg Brown, chairman and CEO of BR Williams Trucking in Oxford, said his business has openings, including around four jobs for long-hauling and about three jobs for its regional division.

Like the hospital, BR Williams has a relatively low turnover rate — between 12 percent and 18 percent every year, Brown said.

Brown said improvements in the economy have increased demand in the trucking industry. Like most industries, trucking took a hit during the 2008 recession, he said.

"Things have begun to pick up," Brown said. "Automobile manufacturing, but also construction, commercial and residential, those have improved and have caused more hauls for trucking."

Brown said there are also just not enough skilled truck drivers.

"We don't have enough trained people to fill the positions," he said. "We take individuals who are 23 years of age or older with at least two years of experience."

Ford Boswell, communications manager for the Alabama Trucking Association, agreed that the improving economy is driving the demand for more truckers.

"There is a definite need for drivers ... the pool is not there," Boswell said. "The trucking companies are basically taking employees from each other."

Boswell said that when the recession hit, several trucking companies in the state consolidated, decreasing the need for drivers and partially solving the shortage problem.

"But as there were increases in freight, the need for more capacity came and they were back to not having enough drivers."

Boswell noted that it is also hard for the trucking industry to attract younger drivers.

"It's a very hard job," he said. "It can pay very well, but the downside is you're on the job for weeks at a time."

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