116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Biden administration announced Thursday its plan to bolster the trucking industry by recruiting more drivers and reducing delays in issuing licenses, but the moves are not likely to have any major immediate effect on filling in the supply gain gaps that are keeping goods from consumers.
Although there has been a shortage of truck drivers for years, the pandemic exacerbated it, leading transportation companies to increase salaries and bonuses, seek regulatory relief and try to attract new faces — like women and veterans — to the profession.
Still, companies are fighting over the few job prospects out there and are struggling to fill jobs. The ranks of the nation's roughly 444,000 long-distance truck drivers is down about 25,000 since early 2019.
In an article earlier this week, The Gazette interviewed Kevonte Brown, 22, of Iowa City, who last month finished the truck driving training program at Kirkwood Community College with the help of a state workforce program that helped with the expense.
Like others who have just completed training, Brown reported he already had been offered a six-figure salary.
“I really did have companies calling me left and right like bill collectors,” he said. “They like that I’m young. They really want the new generation to come and take over. Anywhere I move in the U.S. or the world, I know I will never have to worry about a job.”
In February, the federal government for the first time will begin requiring that all new commercial driver's license applicants be trained in a registered facility using a standard curriculum.
That requirement will be good for driver training businesses, but could actually aggravate the driver shortage. Small carriers, which often do their own training, and those in rural areas where there may be few approved instructors, fear the regulation will make hiring more cumbersome.
"This is going to further negatively impact an already crippled supply chain," said Kelly Krapu, director of safety for TrueNorth Compliance Services in West Fargo, N.D.
The U.S. Department of Transportation disputes that view and promises that regulators will work with industry representatives to ensure a smooth process.
Steps that Biden’s transportation and labor departments announced Thursday include:
- A $30 million program to help states overcome barriers and delays in issuing commercial driver's licenses. White House officials said they were “communicating with all 50 governors about ways they can reduce delays in issuing” the licenses.
- An effort to reach out to veterans to help fill the jobs. The White House estimated there are about 70,000 veterans likely to have had some certified trucking experience within the last five years.
- Accelerating the registered apprenticeship program of workforce training that provides paid, on-the-job learning. Over 10,000 apprentices already are in the trucking industry.
The American Trucking Associations, which represents the industry's largest carriers, says the United States has a shortage of 80,000 truck drivers. Bob Costello, its chief economist, blames a number of factors, including an aging workforce that is only 7 percent female and a new federal database that bars truckers with drug and alcohol violations.
"There is no one reason for the driver shortage, which means there is no one solution," he said.
An independent group, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, says the real problems are long-distance trucking's unappealing lifestyle and inadequate compensation. Drivers spend weeks away from their families, often struggle to find a place to stop for the night or use the bathroom, and waste several hours each day idling in lines.
"If that time was cut in half, all of those drivers would be that (much more productive and you might not need more trucks on the road," said Todd Spencer, the association's president.
The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure legislation President Joe Biden signed last month includes a pilot apprenticeship program for drivers between the ages of 18 and 21, promotes the hiring of female truckers and authorizes a compensation study.
Under federal law now, 18-year-olds are not allowed to drive heavy trucks across state lines. Transportation companies including Cedar-Rapids based CRST International have been advocating to change that, noting they could reach out to younger people to join the profession years before they already picked a different career.
The Washington Post contributed to this report.