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February 21, 2019 4:00 PM, EST

ATA’s Spear Says Collaboration Can Help Reduce Driver Shortage

Chris Spear Chris Spear addresses the conference. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Collaborating with representatives of various industries and government agencies can buoy trucking workforce development efforts, according to American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear.

Spear, who delivered remarks at the 2019 Retention and Recruitment Conference on Feb. 21, said members of Congress, government agency leaders, governors and mayors play an important role in redressing the industrywide driver shortage. Conversion Interactive Agency, an advertising firm that specializes in recruitment, hosted the conference in conjunction with Transport Topics and American Trucking Associations.

Recruitment is important for many firms seeking to fix the industrywide driver shortage. ATA estimates that the industry is short at least 50,000 drivers and that number is expected to climb as older drivers retire. Spear said that number will double over the next five years, and stressed that the trucking industry must hire 1 million people over the next 10 years just to keep pace with economic demands.

Chris Spear

"Our industry is the backbone of America and it should be received favorably by anyone we tell that story to,” said Spear. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

“The ability to grow this industry is going to depend on how well we develop this workforce,” Spear said. “Complacency in Washington, D.C., is rampant. Pointing fingers is easy and anyone can do it. It’s our responsibility to see past that, understand that environment and navigate it. Our industry is the backbone of America and it should be received favorably by anyone we tell that story to.”

A common hurdle for young people is that the current federal law does not permit 18- to 21-year-olds to drive Class 8 trucks across state lines, which Spear called a “ridiculous, idiotic policy.” He said this rule may work for drivers hauling across Tennessee from Memphis to Knoxville, but does not work as well for drivers based in Providence, R.I. Spear has pushed for legislation that would offer targeted training in an effort to allow people in this age range to drive a truck interstate.

ALSO AT THE CONFERENCE: Recruiters Can Attract, Retain Drivers With Empathy

One such piece of legislation is the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy, or DRIVE-Safe Act, which proposes a two-step program for prospective young drivers to complete once they obtain a commercial driver license. The legislation, introduced in March, would require these drivers to log 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time with an experienced driver in the cab after earning a CDL. Once completed, the young driver would be able to participate in interstate commerce.

Spear pointed out that people in this age range can serve in the military and, therefore, they should be allowed to drive interstate with proper training.

“We can send 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds to go off and protect our freedom,” Spear said. “I’m pretty sure we can train them successfully to cross state lines.”

To address the driver shortage, ATA created a Workforce Development Subcommittee. The task force has helped to craft policies and support legislation that would incorporate more young people into the industry. Spear also identified urban residents, minorities, women and people with military service as candidates who could help address the driver shortage.

Spear noted that the industry is partnering with the military to help veterans transition to civilian truck driving jobs. He added that many of the service members who operated a truck in the military are qualified for civilian truck-driving life because they are disciplined and accustomed to high-pressure situations.

Spear said that while hiring veterans is not a “magic bullet,” it could play an important role in reducing the driver shortage. “It’s one of many things that we have to do that our industry needs to be focused on,” he said.