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August 29, 2019 11:30 AM, EDT

ATA Chairman Barry Pottle Says Trucking Industry Must Attract Workers at Younger Ages

American Trucking Associations Chairman Barry Pottle Barry Pottle speaks at McLeod Software's 2019 user conference. (Seth Clevenger/Transport Topics)

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DENVER — Barry Pottle, the chairman of American Trucking Associations, said enhancing the industry’s public image and expanding its appeal to younger workers will be key to attracting the next generation of drivers and technicians.

Pottle, who is CEO of Pottle’s Transportation in Bangor, Maine, also highlighted legislative action that would create more opportunities for young drivers during an Aug. 27 address here at McLeod Software’s annual user conference.

He promoted the DRIVE Safe Act, which would allow 18- to 21-year-olds to become interstate truck drivers through employer-sponsored apprenticeships. Although all 48 contiguous U.S. states already allow drivers in that age group to operate trucks within their boundaries, federal regulations restrict them from crossing state lines until the age of 21.

Pottle emphasized the importance of bringing workers into trucking at a young age, before they establish careers in other industries.

“I started to drive a truck when I was 18 years old,” he said. “I feel if I hadn’t had that opportunity at 18, I might not be in trucking.”

Pottle also pointed to a pair of major industry figures, C.L. Werner of Werner Enterprises and Jerry Moyes of Swift Transportation, who both entered the industry at a young age and went on to build trucking companies that rank among the largest in the nation.

I started to drive a truck when I was 18 years old. I feel if I hadn't had that opportunity at 18, I might not be in trucking.

Barry Pottle, chairman of American Trucking Associations

And Pottle said young drivers today have an advantage that previous generations didn’t: advanced onboard safety technologies such as collision mitigation systems, lane-departure warnings and onboard cameras.

“We didn’t have that,” Pottle said of his early days as a truck driver. “We didn’t even have a cellphone back then.”

The DRIVE Safe Act also prescribes 400 hours of in-vehicle and classroom training for young drivers.

Pottle also emphasized the value of industry outreach to high schools to highlight the good jobs and career paths available in trucking.

“We have so many kids today that don’t want to go to college,” he said. “They need a job somewhere. They want to work. But they’re forced to go to college.”

Many of those students end up graduating with student debt and still can’t find a job.

But if young people become truck drivers and prove to be good employees and safe drivers, they can make $45,000 to $50,000 a year without the tuition bills associated with earning a college degree, Pottle said.

The push to attract a new generation of truck drivers will only become more urgent as many members of the industry’s existing workforce near retirement.

Meanwhile, the federal Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse rule that goes into effect in January, along with hair testing, will remove more drivers with drug and alcohol violations from the industry’s pool of workers, Pottle said. “It’s going to take a lot of drivers out of this industry.”