AUSTIN (KXAN) – With oil prices and production improving again, it’s driving a demand for more truck drivers.

“It’s a busy time in West Texas,” John Esparza, president of the Texas Trucking Association, said.

Jerry Terry with Amarillo College’s Truck Driving Academy said he gets calls every day from people needing drivers.

“I have family that lives in the Odessa area and they tell me that it’s very hard to find drivers,” Terry said. “My aunt runs a brokerage firm in Odessa and she’s been after me to send her drivers.”

But this rising demand for truck drivers due to oil is only adding to what the trucking industry is already dealing with – a shortage of people to get behind the wheel.

“That’s not going away,” Esparza said. “It’s definitely a shortage – one that’s going to be compounded even more so over the course of the next several years and the next 10 years.”

According to the American Trucking Associations, the industry needed more than 50,000 drivers nationwide at the end of 2017. The group projects that number could grow to 174,000 by 2026 if this current trend continues.

“We’re looking at an upswing of freight along with the oil production so the driver shortage is only going to get worse,” Terry said.

Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, said companies are focused on safety training and trying to offer opportunities to build the workforce.

Rick Hidalgo with Austin Community College says prospective students don’t show the same levels of interest in transporting oil like they did before the collapse in 2014, which was due to an imbalance of supply and demand. However, recruiters from all industries are contacting him in search of new drivers, promoting incentives.

“Sign-on bonuses are available,” he said. “They’ll offer housing. Some have offered food and housing.”

Esparza says industries depending on drivers are constantly monitoring trucking because it tells a story about what’s happening economically, “asking questions about what’s happening on the ground to get indications about what one might be looking to invest in.”