This is the second in a series of articles looking at what the recycling industry and the industries it relies on are doing to rebound from labor shortages. Today, Scrap News surveys the trucking industry’s effort to build the future workforce.

The U.S. trucking industry is short 80,000 drivers and expects to see that number surpass 160,000 by 2030, according to the American Trucking Associations.

Now for some relief: Andrew Tode, a commercial driving instructor at Missoula College – University of Montana, says he is seeing people ages 18 to mid-60s looking for work behind the wheel. “Some have come to us with college degrees looking for better pay or just looking for different job opportunities,” he says.

Jake Cooney, CEO of Central Mass Safety Council driving school and Parker Professional Driving School, says turnover has been a part of trucking for decades. It may be, however, that those looking to enter the business from his companies’ two Massachusetts locations are choosier about where they work. “With COVID, a lot of people being out of work or not being in an essential service, the Great Resignation and looking for a different life. I think we’ve gotten more people interested in leaving white-collar jobs to get out on the road and make good money,” he explains.

The biggest challenge for those grooming the workforce of the future: preconceived ideas about the trucking industry. “There’s an idea that the only jobs available are over-the-road [long haul] driving and that just doesn’t fit for everyone,” Tode explains. “The thing that I always stress to people is that there are plenty of CDL jobs where [drivers] are home every night.”

Tode’s son is one of those drivers. He joined a local recycling company as a driver after earning his CDL through Missoula College in 2021.

Trucking schools contacted by Scrap News almost universally reported seeing a lot of interest from driver candidates, even as the bar to join the sector raised in February with the enactment of federally mandated Entry-Level Driving Training (ELVT) rules.

Under ELVT, all students must undergo a three-part curriculum comprised of theory, behind-the-wheel range, and behind-the-wheel road portions. These collectively embody approximately 30 subjects and require students to demonstrate proficiency in all subjects and skills. Furthermore, all students must score at least 80% on a school-administered assessment before they can be certified to take their state’s CDL exam.

Private companies often offer signing bonuses or will reimburse a student the cost of their driving school. There is also funding available from the government for the tuition, starting with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. A completed form can unlock funding like Pell grants, loans, or scholarships including the Women in Trucking Foundation’s twice-a-year awards. State-level organizations including the Michigan Diversified Trucking Association may also offer aid to students from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Lindsey Trent, president and cofounder of the year-old nonprofit Next Generation in Trucking Association, notes that while her group found 1,200 woodworking programs in in high schools across the U.S., there are only nine truck driver training and 185 diesel technician programs. “There’s $1.3 billion of federal funding every year that goes to vocational education. Our hope is to create more programs and get more of that federal funding for our industry.” Trent says. She adds there are many opportunities in trucking and young people like to know that they can work their way up in a career and develop their skills.

“With Gen Z, we know that they’re entrepreneurial,” she says. “So, they like the fact that they can be independent, and out on their own. They want an employer who’s going to invest in them. With COVID, and the supply chain being brought to light and how trucks are essential to our society, they like the fact that when they become a truck driver, it’s contributing to society.”

Not all companies can hire a driver under the age of 21. One way that industry supporters can have a significant impact is by serving as a landing place for graduates, Trent says. A pilot program to allow 18- to 20-year-olds to drive interstate is in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, which introduced a slew of provisions to rally the U.S. trucking industry.

If your company is hiring younger drivers or diesel techs, they may have different expectations than what you’re used to from more seasoned operators. The American Transportation Research Institute has assembled “Integrating Younger Adults into-Trucking-Careers,” a manual to aid industry in managing the future workforce.

The next article in this series will examine what the railroad industry is doing to build its future workforce.

Featured photo courtesy of Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash. Body photo courtesy of Next Generation in Trucking Association. Caption: Students at Patterson High School in Patterson, Calif., learn how to inspect the underside of a commercial trailer.

Dan Hockensmith

Dan Hockensmith

I'm a native Ohioan who since 2014 has called Maryland home. My background includes print, broadcast, and digital journalism; government contracting; and marketing communications.