370225 03: Tractor-trailer rigs are parked at the Petro truck stop May 29, 2000in El Paso, TX. Many of the rigs now have modern wireless communications as well as cable television, refrigerators, double bunk beds, and microwave ovens. In the last few years trucks have become more like a home/office on the road. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)
At 41, Gerald Sparks is starting a new career.
“Construction was just going bad, and I had to do something," Sparks said.
He said he was laid off for five months. Sparks said he tried to look for work, but everyone was downsizing or wasn't hiring.
Now Sparks, a husband and father of three from Missouri, is learning to become a truck driver at FFE Transportation Services in Lancaster.
"As other industries have really been affected by the economic downturn, we’ve seen people sort of move over into trucking as maybe something they hadn’t traditionally thought of but now they see it as an opportunity," said Sherry Bass, of FEE Transportation Services.
When fuel prices peaked over the summer, thousands of experienced truckers across the country parked their big rigs and walked away.
Now that prices have nearly been cut in half, the trucking industry is trying to lure them back, along with thousands of new drivers.
The trucking industry estimates an additional 110,000 drivers will be needed by the year 2014 -- 5,000 of them in Texas alone.
According to the Texas Motor Transportation Association, the trucking industry already provides 673,349 jobs in Texas, or one out of every 14 in the state. The average annual salary for trucking professionals is more than $47,000, according to TMTA.
To help attract new drivers, the association launched a new Web site this month, www.texastruckjobs.com.
"Our goal is to empower Texans with knowledge about the trucking industry by providing a central location to search and post jobs exclusive to trucking," TMTA President John Esparza said.
Sparks said he is ready to get behind the wheel.
"I’m looking forward to it," he said. "I’m ready to get my own truck and get on down the road."