Supply chain experts advising the Biden administration want the U.S. Department of Commerce to lead a multi-agency effort to address a truck driver shortage they warn has “likely reached an all-time high.”
The International Trade Administration’s Advisory Committee on Supply Chain Competitiveness (ACSCC), a 45-member panel of industry officials that advises the secretary of commerce on national freight policy, voted at an ad hoc meeting on Wednesday to recommend that the department “take a leadership role to coordinate federal agencies to immediately address the driver shortage that threatens the effectiveness of the nation’s critical supply chains.”
In a draft letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, the committee noted that the pandemic had underscored the importance of supply chains to the country’s economy.
“The supply chains were crucial in the immediate response to the crisis and are now even more crucial as the nation develops resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains for critical goods movement for the future,” the letter stated. “The vital common link for domestic operations and distribution among our air, sea, and land ports is effective truck transportation.”
ACSCC recommends that Commerce oversee a two-prong approach:
Facilitate the pathways to becoming an interstate truck driver by expanding the demographic pools attracted to the profession and increasing driver training and apprenticeship programs.
Improve the driver experience through addressing truck-parking shortages and safety concerns.
“Various departments are doing this already, and indeed the infrastructure bill passed by the Senate also addresses part of this as well,” ACSCC Workforce Development Subcommittee Chair Anne Strauss-Wieder told the panel. The Senate bill includes new funds for an under-21 driver apprenticeship program and also establishes a new board within the Department of Transportation aimed at increasing the number of women in trucking.
Strauss-Wieder pointed out that lawmakers had considered setting aside money to expand truck parking but such a provision was not in the bipartisan Senate bill passed earlier this week.
ACSCC member Jason Craig, who directs government affairs for third-party logistics company C.H. Robinson, told the committee that truck parking must be addressed if the industry hopes to recruit drivers from urban areas. He cited recent news of the Minneapolis City Council voting to ban truck parking on city streets as undermining such efforts.
“One thing we realized very quickly here is that this is also an issue of equity, and if the industry hopes to attract folks from urban areas into the industry, these truck-parking bans within cities need to be addressed,” Craig said.
The vote to approve recommending that Commerce coordinate addressing the lack of truck drivers was not unanimous. ACSCC member Michael Podue, who represents labor at West Coast port terminals as an official within the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, wanted more emphasis on boosting wages as a way to attract more drivers to the industry.
“I’m not totally opposed to [the committee’s recommendations] at all,” Podue said. “Here on the West Coast and all across the country right now the driver shortage is epidemic. Anything we can do to encourage people to be truck drivers is important. But I think working conditions and driver wages are definitely something to look at. How we get there, I don’t know.”
Podue also pushed back on proposals to recruit younger drivers.
“My concern is putting someone under 21 behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle without proper training,” he said. “We have to be real careful that these training programs are comprehensive. I don’t want an 18- or 19-year-old behind the wheel of a vehicle driving across the country in all types of terrain and all types of weather. I get concerned about the safety aspect.”