As a native Nebraskan, Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, didn’t have to look hard to find inspiration for his introductory remarks in Atlanta at the March 19 breakfast session of the Annual Meeting of ATA's Technology & Maintenance Council.
As his home state deals this week with the aftermath of historic flooding, Spear pointed out that — once again — the nation’s trucking industry is rushing to the rescue with food, water, and supplies for residents in and around Omaha, which has been devastated by flood waters following record rainfall and snowmelt across the Great Plains.
“It never ceases to amaze me that wherever you look in the aftermath of a disaster — be it fires, flooding or hurricanes — trucking is there,” Spear told TMC attendees. “That response is a reflection of who we are: A compassionate and caring industry. And I think we need to amplify that message across America. People need to realize that this industry is not just the people driving trucks down the road. It’s the people working on those trucks. And loading and unloading them. And the families at home waiting for their driver to return.”
Turning his attention to industry issues, Spear said that it is at TMC where the hard data and research ATA relies upon in its advocacy work in Washington D.C. is developed. “The policies we pursue on your behalf aren’t just hatched on their own,” Spear said. “They are a direct result of the work you do. It’s the truth — grounded in data, research, and the experience of our members. Without the work that you do, the work that ATA does, the outcomes we achieve are not possible.”
Spear noted that, in a rare occurrence these days, a bipartisan bill to lower the driving age for cross-country CDL drivers to 18 years old was now being considered in Congress. And Spear, who has two children in the U.S. Army, is confident this move is the right one for trucking to undertake.
“The military will invest tremendous time and energy into training my son and daughter,” he said. “And wherever they are sent, and whatever they are assigned to do, I know they will be invested with the skills they need to perform the jobs assigned to them. And there is no reason this industry cannot do the same thing when it comes to preparing 18-year- old drivers to safely operate our equipment while creating an entirely new funnel for talent to enter our industry.”
Looking at the industry as a whole, Spear said trucking needs to do a better job in attracting a more diverse pool of talent if is going to keep pace with the pressure to move more freight faster in the future. “Trucking is a big tent,” Spear said. “But that means we need to think differently about how we go about attracting new talent. We need to look at urban recruiting programs and working to bring more minorities — African Americas, women and Hispanics — into trucking.”
And Spear urged fleets to work harder to take care of the drivers and employees they already have. “We need to expand our existing work on wellness programs,” he said. “Our employees’ health matters. And we need better health programs that can help people continue to work in this industry as long as they want to.”
In his closing remarks, Spear was optimistic that before the end of the year, Congress would pass a meaningful infrastructure bill to begin much needed work on the nation’s highways, bridges, and other transportation systems. “We believe we will have a bill to the floor of the House by this June — and to the Senate by July,” he said. “This will be a bill with proper funding that can begin to alleviate the [traffic] congestion that costs this industry $74.5 million in wasted fuel and lost time every year.”
A proper infrastructure bill, Spear said in conclusion, would reinforce trucking’s already bright future and allow trucking to redouble its focus on growing its workforce. “That is why I am grateful for our partnership with TMC,” he added. “Keep providing us with the data, facts, and truth we need to help us create the narrative that can drive more positive outcomes for trucking.”