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TRANSPORTATION First find them, then train them, then try hard to retain them

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A chronic shortage of qualified flatbed drivers remains the biggest bump in the road for firms that haul metal for a living.

The task of moving metals and other products is a real challenge for trucking companies and railroads, particularly when there aren't enough qualified drivers and other personnel to go around. It's a challenge the industry faces every day and will continue to face as it deals with the reality of an aging work force. The solution? Training . . . and lots of it.

"In the case of trucks, the drivers-and in the case of railroads, the crews-are still an issue," said Gordon Gustafson, vice president and chief commercial officer of metals industry supply chain specialist ADS Logistics LLC, Homewood, Ill. "We've got a very aging work force and particularly on the flatbed side of the trucking industry we've got a work force that has to do a lot more work than their counterpart van drivers might. Consequently, we've got a little bit more difficulty finding drivers."

Proper training of drivers and equipment issues are among the critical items his company is focusing on, Gustafson said.

Bob Schwab, general manager of marketing and business development at All Metals Transportation & Logistics, agreed that the primary transportation issue currently impacting metals is driver availability. The company, a division of service center All Metals Service & Warehousing Inc., Spartanburg, S.C., operates about 40 flatbed trucks.

"The general skills required for a metals driver are someone who has to chain down coils, fasten a tarp and worry about shipping weights," he said, adding that most of the metals deliveries by the company are around 48,000 pounds.

The search for qualified drivers that can handle these types of shipments takes longer and costs more than recruitment efforts to find van drivers, Schwab said. "You have to make sure you keep the guy because you spend a lot of money in the training process."

But there is little new about the industry's efforts to train and keep drivers. Gary Verhoeven, president of Chicago Logistics LLC, Bridgeview, Ill., a third-party logistics provider to the metals industry, recalled that he had first proposed a driver training program to Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel Corp. about 16 years ago."Every time the market gets good, the trucks get short," said Verhoeven, who now manages a fleet of 26 trucks for the Chicago-area distribution operations of Chicago Heights, Ill.,-based steel services company Esmark Inc. He added that no major steel producer has yet taken up his suggestion for expanded training.


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