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Vermont Labor Department Works With Fuel Dealers To Address Driver Shortage

Tony James stands holding a drink cup in front of some James Oil Company trucks.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Tony James is a second generation fuel oil dealer in Bellows Falls. He said it has been hard hiring younger people to work driving trucks.

Vermont’s fuel dealers are having a hard time hiring drivers, and the Vermont Department of Labor is getting involved to get more people interested in driving the delivery trucks.Tony James, owner of James Oil Company in Bellows Falls, has not been getting applicants interested in a number of open driving positions he has been advertising.

“I think if you look around at the average guy delivering oil, pulling hose, you’re going to see they’re 40-50 years old,” said James. “There's a few young guys out there — [but] it’s just not a thing happening for a younger generation. I’m just not sure what the answer to that is.”

Matt Cota, executive director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, said the fuel dealers face even more challenges than the other business owners who are competing for the same shrinking labor pool.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the federal government put new restrictions on who can haul hazardous materials, like fuel oil. Cota said only about six percent of the drivers in Vermont have their hazmat clearance.

“There are federal restrictions that limit our pool of drivers,” said Cota. “There’s the drug testing. There’s the hazmat endorsement. There’s the background check. You also have to be 21 years old. So the pool of high school graduates, you know, we have to wait around three years before they can drive.”

"I think if you look around at the average guy delivering oil, pulling hose, you’re going to see they’re 40-50 years old. There's a few young guys out there — [but] it’s just not a thing happening for a younger generation." — Tony James, owner of James Oil

Cota said the shortage of drivers is a national issue that’s being magnified here in the Northeast by the demographics.

He said there is more that can be done to get the word out and make sure the high schools and tech centers are helping train people who are interested in driving.

And beyond all that, Cota said the fuel dealers are reaching out to the state to see what can be done.

“We’re at a point where we really need to consider creative ways to ensure that those trucks are filled with qualified operators,” Cota said.

The fuel dealers have been meeting with the Department of Labor and the Department of Motor Vehicles to see what can be done to address the issue.

Cameron Wood, the Labor Department's director of unemployment insurance and wages, said the meetings have led to some immediate strategies, like making it easier for seasonal drivers in the paving or construction industries to drive in the winter for the fuel dealers.

And Wood said getting the word out — and trying to get more women to consider driving trucks — could also lead to some immediate change.

“What we were trying to do in the short term is make connections between individual employers,” said Wood. “You know, there’s not a silver bullet ... with this. So what can we do in the short term that we can try and build upon as we move forward? And so I think we’re just trying to start small and then grow from there."

The fuel dealers are working with the Department of Labor to figure out issues with sharing liability insurance and unemployment benefits if drivers are going to move between two companies over the course of a year. They’re also putting together an online database for employers to find seasonal drivers who might be looking for work.

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