The Biden administration announced a series of short- and long-term initiatives to address the truck driver shortage, including launching a pilot program for younger drivers and making it easier for trucking companies to use the Registered Apprenticeship program.
On Dec. 16, the Departments of Transportation and Labor announced a plan to support and expand access to quality truck-driving jobs now and in the years ahead.
The departments are accelerating the expansion of Registered Apprenticeship programs for drivers; taking immediate steps to address the pandemic-driven delays in getting a commercial driver’s license; curbing the proliferation of low-quality training that increases the supply of less qualified drivers who end up in debt or being exploited; and expanding paths for veterans and underrepresented communities, such as women, to access good driving jobs.
The Truck Action Plan is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force, launched in June to address near-term supply chain bottlenecks. Most of the issues causing the supply chain crunch are not new. The huge volume of goods has just laid bare existing, long-term challenges, including in trucking.
According to the American Trucking Associations, the industry is facing a shortage of 80,000 drivers. The driver population is aging, and women account for about 8% of all truck drivers.
The administration announced the following immediate actions:
Expand Registered Apprenticeships
A new 90-day challenge is a national effort to recruit employers interested in developing new Registered Apprenticeship programs and expanding existing programs. The administration is working with trucking associations and major fleets on this initiative.
Shortly after taking office, Biden reversed a Trump-era initiative that would have instead expanded apprenticeship programs in an “industry-led” model that would allow companies to avoid the red tape of the Registered Apprenticeship process. That project was slow to come to fruition, as Democrats in Congress blocked funding and the implementing regulations were only finalized last year.
A White House fact sheet on the new effort called Registered Apprenticeship “the gold-standard of workforce training that provides paid, on-the-job learning,” but the administration is addressing those industry concerns about red tape, launching an apprenticeship accelerator for the trucking industry.
“For employers ready to step up, DOL and national partners will help accelerate new program development in as little as two days,” according to the fact sheet.
A senior administration official explained that, “At its essence, what we're doing is we're cutting a lot of red tape in the process. When industry tries to thread together all the different programs we have at the federal agencies to recruit new drivers, to train new drivers, they can easily get lost. We've assembled the resources, made it more efficient for them to engage, and have devoted dedicated resources to this at the Department of Labor, at VA as well, and at the Department of Transportation that we think will lead to faster, more efficient service and get us more drivers on the road faster over the next few months in a safe way, and in a way that helps strengthen the longer term retention challenges that are at play here.”
To kick off this 90-day challenge, the administration announced:
- Fastport, a DOL-funded national apprenticeship intermediary partner with a focus on the transportation sector, is committing to work with trucking employers, unions, and industry associations to establish Registered Apprenticeship programs for their organizations in as little as 48 hours.
- DOL’s Office of Apprenticeship’s consultants across the country will be available to help organizations interested in starting a new program or joining an existing program. OA launched a 90 Day Apprenticeship Trucking Challenge website for interested employers, unions, and intermediaries.
- DOL is investing $8 million in more national apprenticeship intermediaries that can help employers start Registered Apprenticeships in trucking and other supply chain industries.
- EVO Trucking, D.M. Bowman, Yellow Corp., Florida Rock and Tank, Total Transportation, CRST, and Albertsons are committing to launch, expand, and work with the administration on a Registered Apprenticeship.
- The administration will work with the Trucking Alliance and the American Trucking Associations.
“Apprentices earn while they learn instead of just having to pay or take out debt for a training course,” said a senior administration official. “Critically, they gain real experience. Something that we have seen in the trucking industry is critical for the hiring and talent pipeline is not just the credentials in the commercial driver's license, but actual driving experience. Through an apprenticeship, a pool of new drivers will come out connected to a good job and a career. And it's a critically important recruitment strategy for employers. Because it is an earn and learn model for potential new drivers. And it'll both reduce turnover and improve both performance and safety. Employers themselves get incredible returns on new apprenticeships. For every dollar they put in, they get on average $1.47 back.”
Launch Joint DOT- DOL Driving Good Jobs initiative
DOT and DOL are launching a joint Driving Good Jobs initiative, a new partnership between the agencies. It will include:
- Listening sessions that engage drivers, unions and worker centers, industry, and advocates
- Highlighting employers and best practices that support job quality and driver retention that can be scaled
- Working together to implement research and engagement efforts outlined in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including studying the issue of truck driver pay and unpaid detention time. Administration officials cited an MIT study showing that long haul drivers only spent an average of six and a half hours per day driving despite being allowed to drive 11 hours a day. That means about 40% of their daily capacity is not being used.
- Identifying strategies to get more women into the field. A new Women and Trucking Task Force will work to encourage more women to enter the workforce and to ensure that those in the workforce and entering it have safe places to rest.
- Identify strategies to bring young drivers between the ages of 18-20 into the field. In the next 60 days, FMCSA will launch a pilot for drivers ages 18-21 as mandated by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, incorporating Registered Apprenticeships to ensure rigorous training standards and pairing each young driver with an experienced mentor. That program will also require that these drivers use trucks equipped with safety equipment, such as automatic emergency braking, speed limiters, and forward facing cameras.
- Setting up a task force to investigate predatory truck leasing arrangements.
- Identifying longer term actions, such as potential administrative or regulatory actions that support drivers and driver retention by improving the quality of trucking jobs.
Get More Veterans into Trucking
There are approximately 70,000 veterans who are likely to have certified trucking experience in the last five years, according to the administration. In this initiative, the DOL Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) and the Department of Veterans Affairs will work with veterans service organizations, military service organizations, unions, industry trucking associations, training providers, and private partners to help transition service members and veterans to jobs in the trucking industry.
DOL and VA will work to ensure veterans’ driving experience is recognized for those seeking a CDL and will build on proven models, such as SkillBridge programs for transitioning service members.
Reduce Licensing Barriers
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will provide more $30 million in funding to help states expedite the issuance of CDLs and commercial learner's permits.
FMCSA is sending all 50 states a toolkit detailing specific actions they can take to expedite licensing and said it will work hand-in-hand with states to address challenges they are facing. FMCSA will also begin closely tracking delays, identifying states that have challenges with issuing CDLs, and communicating with governors about ways they can reduce delays in issuing CDLs.
In 2021, on average, more than 50,000 CDLs and CLPs have been issued each month, which is 20% higher than the 2019 monthly average and 72% higher than the 2020 monthly average, according to the administration. While pandemic-related backlogs and delays exist in some states, they can be cleared by using proven strategies. For example, California expanded hours and locations and increased the number of personnel who can administer the road test. North Carolina increased the availability of testing appointments, and Texas expanded hours, testing capacity, and shifted much of the process online.
Why the DOT-DOL Partnership is Important
While several of these initiatives are already required in the new infrastructure law, DOT officials pointed out that the law does not require it to work with the Department of Labor, and that is important.
Working together with DOL on driver compensation and driver retention studies feeds into longer-term questions about job quality. What is work for drivers? How many hours are they working? How much are they paid? And how is that affecting their decision to come into the industry and stay in the industry?
Working together on registered apprenticeships, instead of those projects being separate, will help connect the trucking industry with the Department of Labor so more trucking companies will take advantage of Registered Apprenticeships.
“This is highlighting the need for us to view truck driving as a profession and treat it as such, both in the training and in the job quality initiatives,” said one senior official.