GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Semi-truck driving schools in West Michigan are trying to keep up with demand from a national shortage of drivers.

West Michigan CDL in Grandville is seeing the highest demand in the school’s history, according to owner Mike Birdsall.

“We’re getting phone calls almost daily from places we’ve never heard of or never dealt with on a regular basis before looking to hire drivers,” Birdsall said. “There’s a huge shortage across the country in all types of driving.”

Ryan Villwock is a student in his last week of a two-week intensive course. He said the company he will be driving for is covering the cost of the training.

“The starting pays are pretty high right now compared to what it would have been two, maybe even three years ago around the area,” Villwock said.

Birdsall said a variety of factors are leading to the shortage including a strong consumer demand and backlogs in the supply chain from the pandemic. Retirements are also a major factor.

“I think the older drivers are just moving on and I don’t think as many younger people are looking to enter into this industry,” Birdsall said.

More companies are using trucks with automatic transmissions in an attempt to attract candidates who do not want to operate a manual. In some cases, starting divers are able to get better schedules that years ago would have been unthinkable as a new employee.

“A lot of companies are really getting competitive. If they can’t increase the wages, they’re trying to add the insurance or their retirement plans up a little better just to help bring in more newer people,” Villwock said.

West Michigan CDL is trying to keep up with the demand and expects the need for truck driving schools will not slow anytime soon.

“I don’t see any immediate decline in the need for drivers right now,” Birdsall said. “I just don’t know how long it’s going to last, to be truthful, but we have a waiting list now to get in — larger than we’ve ever had, really. I’ve been in business for 22 years. We’ve just never had this type of waiting list for people.”