BRATTLEBORO — Before the pandemic struck, Vermont had an unemployment rate of between 2 and 3 percent. In April, the unemployment rate jumped to almost 16 percent due to the economic shutdown caused by COVID-19. Since then, the rate has slowly fallen, and in August, the rate was down to 4.8 percent.
While some sectors, especially the hospitality industry, still have high unemployment rates, Vermont is almost back to business as usual in one aspect — certain employers can’t find the right people for certain jobs. One such sector is transportation, especially jobs that require a commercial drivers license, or CDL.
“Employers will tell you that the competition for trained workers is fierce,” said Adam Grinold, executive director of BDCC. This is not new when it comes to CDL drivers, he said, and the demand will likely increase as drivers age out and retire. Currently, more than 55 percent of the drivers are in the 45 to 64 age range, according to data collected by the BDCC.
“This is a great opportunity for unemployed and underemployed Vermonters,” said Grinold, with starting pay between $18 and $28 an hour for certified drivers.
The BDCC’s Hiring Needs Assessment is described as “a real-time, demand-focused analysis of our regional economy.” The goal is to create a process that can be targeted at and repeated with other industries or sectors of the economy that have “high-need” and “high-opportunity” jobs. “High-need” may include occupations with large or growing vacancies due to retirements, even if the occupational sector is not new or growing. “High-opportunity” jobs refer to positions that offer exceptional training and education, and career advancement.
Cristy Carretero, an AmeriCorps Vista member at BDCC, presented some of the data results during the virtual news conference.
She said a survey was sent to 40 employers in Windham County and to highway supervisors in every town, and BDCC received 18 responses.
While it’s a small sample group, she said the results indicate that, with economic growth and people retiring, these employers will need many new drivers over the next five years. The results indicate this could add up to between 200 and 300 new jobs requiring a CDL. And some employers are looking for drivers right now, she added.
“People are slowly opening back up but they don’t have the employees they need to get back to business as usual,” said Carretero.
There are some obstacles for people hoping to get a CDL, including not being able to pay for a four-to-five-week CDL training course and not having a DMV testing site close by due to closures related to the pandemic once they get the training.
Todd West, of Northeast Driver Training in Rockingham, said not having a local DMV office for CDL testing has slowed down certifications, but once a driver gets his or her license, they can pretty much walk right into a job.
Northeast Driver Training offers courses for DCL-A and CDL-B certification as well as a Class B license with a Passenger endorsement.
“Today I have 10 jobs within a 15-minute walk of where I am sitting,” said West. “One company has five new trucks with no plates because they can’t get drivers.”
But many of the people who come to Northeast Driver Training need tuition assistance, he said. That’s where Cindy Delgato, the regional manager for the Vermont Department of Labor, comes in.
“Our job is to braid all the needs together and then figure out how to guide people to what their best next step is,” she said.
Each person who contacts her office has a different need and is starting from a different place, so she tries to design help specific to that person.
“Not one size fits all,” said Delgato, who urged job seekers to Google #Hiring2DayVt to learn more about job and training opportunities in Vermont, or to visit the DOL’s website.
Randy Schoonmaker, CEO of Southeast Vermont Transit, which operates the Moover, said he is looking for drivers who like to work with people.
“We are really looking for people who like to be with other people and like to talk to them,” said Schoonmaker. “Then we can teach them how to drive.”
Schoonmaker said that over the past few months, Southern Vermont Transit has scaled back operations, but is now expanding its service. What is holding it back from returning to pre-pandemic levels is a lack of drivers.
“We lost some because of the pandemic, people who didn’t want to take a risk,” he said.
Bob Audette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.