The Biden administration on Thursday will announce a series of actions to beef up the number of commercial truck drivers, including helping state departments of motor vehicles issue more commercial licenses, increasing apprenticeships and recruiting veterans.
The moves, part of a series of administration efforts aimed at unfurling a tangled supply chain, aim to counter what the American Trucking Associations says is a shortage of 80,000 truckers — a figure disputed by economists and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. They argue the problem is an inefficient use of drivers and inadequate retention efforts.
The administration, through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, will provide more than $30 million to help states expedite commercial driver’s licenses and guidance to help them expedite licensing.
It’s also launching a Department of Labor-funded effort to help trucking employers, unions and industry associations to establish apprenticeship programs.
The administration said it will also expand outreach to veterans and women interested in entering the industry.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese are scheduled to host a roundtable Thursday at the White House with trucking industry leaders to discuss the initiative.
The recently passed bipartisan infrastructure law created a pilot program to allow drivers younger than 21 to be part of apprenticeship programs allowing them to operate in interstate commerce, which was previously against federal regulations.
In a conference call before the announcement, senior White House officials stressed the need to retain truckers, but the bulk of the steps announced were aimed more at recruiting new workers into the industry. Still, the plan also included a "Driving Good Jobs" initiative that would study driver compensation, investigate predatory truck leasing arrangements that push truckers out of the industry and develop a plan to outline further administration actions to support quality trucking jobs.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all, just add truck drivers and things will get better everywhere,” said one administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But there are certain segments of the industry, like the long haul, where it is harder to attract applicants.”
The official said that the aim of the initiative was to spotlight the administration’s focus “on truck driving as a career.”
“This is highlighting the need for us to view truck driving as a profession and treated as such both in the training and in the job quality initiatives,” the official said.
Still, some researchers say the problem isn’t a lack of drivers, it’s just an inefficient use of them.
David Correll, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Transportation and Logistics, argued at a Nov. 17 hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that long-haul drivers are on the road for an average of 6.5 hours every day, he said. The rest of that time, he said, is spent waiting to be loaded and unloaded.
If that time driving were increased by 18 minutes a day per driver, he said, it would meet that need.
“I think we’re really squandering a lot of that workforce’s time,” he said.