June 30, 2014 5:00 PM, EDT

Funds for States to Train Drivers Closer to Approval

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News
The Workforce Development Act, which funnels money to states to train job seekers, including truck drivers, is closer to congressional approval after more than a decade of temporary extensions.

A bipartisan five-year reauthorization bill was approved by the Senate on June 25 on a 95-3 vote. It heads back to the House, which passed its version last year but must concur on Senate amendments.

Unlike the existing workforce law, the bill more strongly ties training to high-demand occupations, said Don Lefeve, president of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, which represents private training schools.

“It’s a really good improvement, and we think it’s good news for trucking,” Lefeve said of the Senate bill. “By definition, it’s going to be much more data-driven.”

Carriers are scrambling to find drivers as demand for freight continues to grow.

“Every year, there are roughly 35,000 more driving jobs to be filled [in trucking],” said Boyd Stephenson, director of hazardous material policy for American Trucking Associations.

ATA supports the reauthorization bill and will reach out to local workforce boards in the states to press them to allocate more training money for drivers, Stephenson said.  At the same time, though, trucking would like to see more emphasis on national job needs rather than on local needs, he added.

“The challenge that we have in our industry is, we’re a mobile industry, we’re transportation, so, where is our local shortage for over-the-road interstate trucking?” he said.

Robert McClanahan, executive director of the National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools, which represents community colleges and technical schools that train drivers, said that in the past some training money was going to occupations where there are no jobs.

That’s not the case with truck driving, he said.

“The placement rates are tremendous,” McClanahan said. “If we can get them trained, placement isn’t a problem. We can get them hired nationwide.”

His member schools turn out 15,000 to 17,000 graduates a year, he said. Lefeve said the private truck driving schools turn out about 50,000 graduates a year.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, urged the House to act quickly on the bill.

“Giving workers the skills they need and employers the workforce they require are at the heart of this legislation,” Harkin said in a joint statement from committee leaders.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the  committee ranking member, said the bill streamlines what he called “a maze” of programs.

“This legislation simplifies that maze, gives governors and states more flexibility, and makes it easier for Tennessee’s 13 local workforce investment boards to match Tennesseans who want a job with the skills employers are looking for,” he said.