It’s early days, but new effort to boost driver numbers is being seen as a positive.  -  File Photo: A. Duie Pyle

It’s early days, but new effort to boost driver numbers is being seen as a positive.

File Photo: A. Duie Pyle

The average driver waits four and a half hours for their truck to be loaded and unloaded during an 11-hour shift — 40% of their day. And often, they don’t get paid for that wait time,” said President Joe Biden at a White House event in April.

Biden was speaking to the obstacles truck drivers face and how his administration’s Trucking Action Plan aims to tackle those challenges while strengthening the nation’s supply chains. He also pointed to stagnating wages. In 1978, he said, the average truck driver’s pay was $34 an hour in today’s dollars. Last year, it was just $25 an hour — a 30% decline.

“In this iconic American industry, it’s getting harder and harder to raise a family with dignity and pride… it’s no surprise so many drivers [have] left their jobs.” He said that the driver workforce is aging, yet “it’s getting harder and harder to recruit new drivers, particularly women and people of color, to an industry that this nation and our economy desperately needs at full strength.”

The key message of Biden’s speech was to urge employers to take part in the Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship Program for truck drivers to attract the next generation of truckers. He said the program allows “aspiring drivers to learn while — earn while they learn — while making this essential job more attractive for potential drivers regardless of age, background, and gender.”The president said that in the prior 90 days, 100 major employers had launched new registered apprenticeship programs, including UPS, Domino’s, Pepsi, and Albertsons, along with industry groups, such as the American Trucking Associations, the National Minority Trucking Association, and the Food Industry Association.

The Trucking Action Plan was launched jointly in December by the DOL and the Department of Transportation. Its public-private initiatives seek to boost the number of truck drivers by creating new pathways into the career path, increasing training via registered apprenticeships, and improving aspects of the job to better retain drivers.

On hand for the White House event was J.B. Hunt Transport Senior Vice President Greer Woodruff, who was also representing the Trucking Alliance. He said registered apprenticeships are “recognized as the gold-standard of workforce training,” and that the Biden Trucking Plan is “an efficient and effective solution.” 

Woodruff announced that member carriers of the Trucking Alliance, whose companies collectively employ more than 80,000 drivers, will offer truck driver registered apprenticeships at more than 200 locations in 36 states, “backfilling many positions and creating more opportunities.”

American Trucking Associations CEO Chris Spear welcomed the spotlight cast on the apprenticeship programs, which includes the departments making it faster and easier to get such programs approved and established. Noting that the DOL and DOT “have worked quickly and efficiently in approving ATA as a registered apprenticeship sponsor,” he said in a statement, “This long-sought designation provides our member companies valuable new tools and resources to help recruit and train the next generation of trucking talent.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association did not applaud the speechmaking so loudly, but it approved of the progress made so far on trucker apprenticeships.

“The Biden Trucking Action Plan remains a mixed bag of policies intended to improve jobs and employment opportunities within the industry,” OOIDA said in a statement. “Today’s update notes significant progress on establishing apprenticeship programs and plenty of funding to help states expedite CDLs, but we have yet to really see any substantive actions that can help keep new or current drivers in the industry long-term.”

OOIDA applauded the administration for adding truck parking to the plan and said it’s pleased that the DOT has started gathering information on detention time and driver compensation.

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