When Billy Johnson invited me to join a transportation panel for ISRI, I made sure to ask about friendly faces. With a strong economy and tight capacity in the freight market, stakeholders who move products on trucks – most businesses – have been concerned about increasing rates and difficulty in getting freight moved. So I wasn’t sure if the crowd would be throwing vegetables at me, but I was comforted to know that our railroad friends would be up on stage as well.
Chairman Mark Lewon asked great questions about the challenges shippers face with moving freight, and I was honored to be included. For those who might have missed my session that morning, I wanted to summarize my part of the discussion to help scrap and recycling friends have a sense of what the American Trucking Associations is doing to address conditions that may impact you and your business. While there may not be silver bullets, there are real opportunities to recruit and train new professional truck drivers, which shippers understand is a bottleneck. I also wanted to include some common sense thoughts about working with your carriers and drivers to address efficiency and capacity more simply.
Recruiting and Training New Professionals
The American Trucking Associations is working with our members and stakeholders across industries and government to bring in new and younger professionals to the industry. The shortage of drivers, currently estimated at 50,000, is a challenge that policymakers and we can begin to address. We have helped develop a structured program to bring in 18-21 year old drivers, which is a population that currently is prohibited from driving interstate routes, even though they are allowed to drive intrastate routes in 48 states. The Drive SAFE Act, led by Congressmen Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) and Collin Peterson (D-MN), is a bipartisan bill we’ve worked to develop as a result.
A similar effort, the WHEEL Act, was introduced by Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (R-NY) which would expand a FAST Act pilot program to study safety aspects of allowing 18-21 year old former military to drive commercially interstate. The WHEEL Act would expand eligibility for this pilot program to include civilians between the ages of 18-21, who have a CDL, a clean driving record, and a certificate of completion from a qualified training program.
The driver shortage is accompanied by a shortage of trained diesel mechanics, technicians, and other professionals in the freight industry. The ATA and our members are engaged with Trump Administration efforts to expand training models like apprenticeship to expand the recruitment and training of these vital employees in the industry as well.
How You Can Help
When we talked about this in Las Vegas, I shared ideas that often come up in discussions about a tight freight market and what individual companies can do to impact their efficiency and shipping. At its simplest, my advice is to work to be a better customer. First, motor carriers can move more freight with their existing assets if their drivers and equipment aren’t sitting for hours waiting to be loaded and unloaded. This unproductive time costs them money – and often drivers – if they can’t keep trucks and drivers rolling. So I would suggest that you work with your carriers to schedule and prepare for efficient pick-up and delivery. If you are a good customer who has freight ready to be hauled when the truck shows up, I suspect your service and rates will reflect the strong partnership. And in a tight market for drivers, carriers pay a lot of attention to how drivers are treated. If drivers are left sitting idle in their truck, if they’re not allowed in to use the restroom and aren’t treated well by shippers that has an impact on driver retention and on business. So being a good customer who treats drivers with dignity isn’t just the right and efficient thing to do – it’s good business.
It was an honor and pleasure to join Mark and Billy and your group, and I learned about both your business and ours. We enjoy a strong working relationship in government affairs with ISRI, and we have a number of opportunities to support one another. I hope to be back to see you soon!
Ferrous Beat Main