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January 13, 2022 12:00 PM, EST

Workforce Key to Easing Supply Chain Crunch, Buttigieg Says

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg addressing TRB 2022 attendees Transportation Secretary Buttigieg says it is important to "make sure that the working conditions and compensation reflect the fact that [trucking] jobs are absolutely essential,” (The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine via YouTube)

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WASHINGTON — Promoting productive and rewarding careers for the freight workforce is a priority of the Biden administration as it continues to address bottlenecks at ports, the nation’s top transportation officer said.

Addressing attendees at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting Jan. 12, Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed a commitment to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation in assisting with retention and recruitment efforts throughout the trucking industry.

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Specifically, Buttigieg said transportation officials and private sector stakeholders would benefit from “making sure that we are recruiting and retaining people who are working as truckers.”

“We’ve got to make sure, not only that we’re recruiting people in the field, but that it is not a leaky bucket. Rather, that we make sure that the working conditions and compensation reflect the fact that those jobs are absolutely essential,” the secretary said, emphasizing a need for establishing a vibrant workforce tasked with expediting the flow of freight at commercial corridors.

He went on to praise truckers and other personnel operating along key aspects of the supply chain. “If you got a package today, thank a trucker. If you enjoyed a gift that was under the tree, thank a warehouse worker. If you click on something online and it’s on your doorstep two days later, thank a longshore worker who probably unloaded it. We depend on the human beings and that human factor more than anything.”

Buttigieg noted provisions in the new $1 trillion infrastructure law meant to improve conditions within the trucking workforce. American Trucking Associations has determined the industrywide shortage of truck drivers stands at 80,000.

RELATED: Truck driver recruiting efforts move into high schools

Among the trucking provisions in the infrastructure law is the creation of an apprenticeship for drivers younger than 21 to eventually qualify to operate trucks interstate. USDOT officials intend to begin implementing the apprenticeship during the early part of this year.

The secretary also touted other programs meant to respond to supply chain woes. These include the recent announcement of $52 million in federal aid to assist on-dock rail operations at the Port of Long Beach. He noted that as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, there is $17 billion to enhance connectivity programs at commercial ports.

Speaking about the supply chain at a recent event in California, Buttigieg said, “Nothing about this will be easy, but everything about this can make us proud, because of the partnership, because of the teamwork, because of the commitment and because of the will to make the investments that America has needed for a very long time. And there’s no better way, no better place, to showcase that than right here at [Los Angeles] and Long Beach.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on boat tour of San Pedro Bay

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg takes a boat tour of San Pedro Bay while on a visit to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on Jan. 11. (Allison Zaucha/Bloomberg News)

At the TRB conference, Buttigieg also highlighted efforts at the department to facilitate the adoption of new technologies for each mode of transportation. Specifically, he pointed to USDOT’s update of its innovation principles. In new guidance updated this month, USDOT explained the regulatory landscape for transportation operations must prioritize safety, economic growth and climate change. The department also emphasized boosting the transportation workforce, chronicling data and collaborating with private sector stakeholders.

John Porcari

Porcari

The White House has acknowledged supply chain woes as the freight industry points to months of congestion that contributed to delivery disruptions of goods. White House port envoy John Porcari recently insisted the administration is assisting stakeholders. He also indicated consumers received nearly all of their packages during the holidays with minimal delays from the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx Corp. and UPS Inc.

Additionally, the White House announced this year the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will have a new fee on long-dwelling empty containers meant to continue freeing up access at the ports. The Port of Oakland, Porcari noted, announced measures designed to facilitate movement of U.S. exports, such as agricultural products.

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