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Federal program could help find next-generation of truck drivers

The Florida Trucking Association says the pilot program, announced in January, could strengthen efforts to recruit more drivers
Posted at 7:16 AM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 07:23:28-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla — It’s a shortage that has the potential to leave more shelves bare and break more links in the supply chain. America needs more truck drivers. Alix Miller, the President & CEO of the Florida Truck Association, says the Sunshine State needs more too.

“This, historically, was a Baby Boomer career, and so with those people retiring — and a lot of them retired just a little bit early when the pandemic hit,” Miller said. “We’ve been having a truck driver shortage for almost a decade now, but it’s been exacerbated by COVID-19. So right now, we currently need 80,000 drivers nationally.”

Attracting the next generation of truck drivers, however, has proved a challenge. For one, Miller and the trucking industry are up against misconceptions.

“Everyone thinks of truck driving in that 1970s “outlaws on the road” in a rumbling old truck,” she said. “Technology is incredibly advanced in these trucks. You know, you have like little apartments inside behind them.”

However, she says an even bigger problem exists in reaching potential drivers at a young enough age to steer them toward a truck driving career.

Right now, you have to be 21 or older to move interstate commerce.

“When you’re looking at graduating from high school and what career you want to do if you don’t want to go to a four-year college or university, trucking is largely off the table. So we lose that entire population of students,” she said.

As a result, the average age of entry is around 35 years old.

“That’s already half-way through their kind of earning potential for their career, and so we really need to get them not in their second or third career move, but their first,” Miller said.

A recent change made at the federal level might help.

Last month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, a program that will allow 18, 19, and 20 year olds with commercial driver’s licenses to truck freight to and from interstate ports and across state lines. They can currently only transport intrastate freight.

Right now, the program is in its pilot stage of 3,000 young drivers, but Miller hopes it will prove successful, will expand, and will help an industry hurting for its next generation of drivers.

“It is about luring in that next generation for their first career, training them well, and get them on the road to deliver for all of America,” Miller said. “It’s a huge step in bringing in this next generation but doing it under very tight requirements.”

As Miller referenced, the pilot includes stringent safety requirements and training. When asked about safety, Miller pointed out that many young drivers are capable of answering the call.

“18to 20-year-olds are already participating in intrastate commerce in semi-trucks; additionally, they are immediately tasked with driving large trucks in the military; and fewer for a pilot’s license at the age of seventeen is available,” she said.

Read more about the program at this link.