July 30, 2018 3:30 PM, EDT

Michigan Trucking Company Expands Apprenticeship Program

Holland truck on the roadHolland

HOLLAND, Mich. — Facing a shortage of truck drivers, one west Michigan transportation company has taken matters into its own hands.

Holland, a trucking company that offers delivery in 14 states and specializes in next-day service, is expanding its apprenticeship program to attract more drivers and meet growing customer demand.

Two weeks ago, the Holland-based company added the program, which is free and takes about a year to complete, to its terminal in Des Moines, Iowa. Next week, it will be extended to locations in Decatur and Birmingham, Ala. — making it available at about 26 of the company’s terminals, said Tamara Jalving, Holland’s director of talent acquisition.

But while about 50 people have completed the program and 100 more are enrolled, the company needs as many as 300 drivers at its locations throughout the United States, Jalving said.

Ten to 15 of those positions are needed in west Michigan, she said.

“There’s a significant problem with the driver shortage,” Jalving said. “Changing the perception of trucking is an important part of addressing that.”

Under the program, Holland hires prospective drivers who start out working in the loading dock, earning $16 per hour, using machinery to load and unload trucks. Apprentices work toward their commercial driver license, receiving guidance from Holland employees who serve as mentors.

The apprenticeship program is in place at the company’s Michigan terminals in Wayland, Detroit, Jackson and Birch Run.

To generate more interest in the program, Holland is touting its “competitive pay” — which for drivers can reach as high as $22 per hour after three years on the job — and benefits, which include health insurance, a 401(k), a pension and paid time off.

It also is marketing itself to veterans.

Veterans participating in the program can access a housing stipend offered in the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and the company also received a $40,000 grant from Fastport, a software company focused on helping veterans find jobs.

“A veteran understands mission, they understand customer service and doing the right thing,” said Jason Schenkel, a senior recruiter at Holland who himself is an Army veteran.

It’s not just Holland facing a shortage of truckers.

Nationwide, the shortage — which trade associations say has been ongoing for 15 years — was expected to surpass 50,000 by the end of 2017, according to a report from American Trucking Associations. That’s up from a shortage of 36,500 the prior year.

It’s a trend that is caused in part by an aging workforce that historically has been dominated by men and has struggled to attract women and people of color. Long-distance truckers who spend weeks at a time on the road have an average age of 49, according to ATA.

Jalving said Holland trucking strives to meet its client needs and make deliveries on time, but the shortage has made it tough to accommodate growing customer demand, especially during the busy summer months. She attributed some of that demand to the growth of online retailers, such as

“Without drivers, we are unable to deliver freight on time to meet our on-standard service levels to our customers,” she said. “An adequate amount of safe, qualified drivers is core. It’s critical to the success of our company.”

In recent years, the possibility of autonomous semi-trucks has gained significant attention, with news stories focusing on how the technology could displace existing truck drivers.

Jalving said such reports shouldn’t dissuade young people from considering a trucking career.

“These trucks, even though we call them autonomous, they’re still going to have a driver, but they might be pulling multiple trailers,” she said. “And it’s going to be drivers that really need to understand technology, electronics.”

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