At the recent U.S. House of Representatives transportation panel, President of American Trucking Associations, Chris Spear, explained that finding solutions to current nationwide supply chain concerns should come primarily from trucking industry workforce improvement policies.
Federal transportation policymakers were urged to consider supply chain improvement proposals at the hearing by a variety of leaders in the transportation industry. Some of these potential initiatives brought to light during the discussion included an industrywide workforce development project and other methods of combating the ongoing truck driver shortage.
In fact, ATA’s Spear noted that training-focused funding throughout the most important sectors of freight would be paramount to overcoming the shortage of 80,000 drivers–especially with these problems so exacerbated by the pandemic era and the boom of e-commerce and accessibility issues that came with it.
“The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it the temporary closures of state [departments of motor vehicles] and truck driver training schools, which dried up the already-fragile pipeline of new drivers entering the trucking industry,” he said in a push for funding from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “This pipeline is still slow and inefficient today. As a result, companies working throughout the nation’s supply chain are facing higher transportation costs leading to increased prices for consumers on everything from electronics to food.”
President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes an apprenticeship pilot program that has been strongly supported by ATA, as it will allow trained drivers under the age of 21 to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce. The initiative also allows for the implementation of a training program for even younger drivers (between 18 and 20 years old) to drive Class 8 trucks across multiple states.
“The driver shortage is a looming threat that, if unaddressed, could destabilize the continuity of trucking operations with ripple effects across the supply chain that will be felt by everyday Americans,” lamented Spear, emphasizing the need for these apprenticeship programs.
Regardless of a shortage, keeping safety the priority is imperative when bringing these new and young potential truckers to the industry.
“There is nothing wrong with trying to increase the number of truck drivers to meet the needs,” said Levinson and Stefani’s Jay Stefani. “But along with the push to hire more people, there needs to be an equal increase in safety and training programs. Bringing in new drivers means bringing in inexperienced drivers–drivers who don’t have a lot of miles behind them.”
It should also be common sense that allowing these truck drivers to enter the industry in the midst of the winter season’s inclement weather is something to be avoided, as well, Stefani added.
“That is especially critical when you consider hiring inexperienced drivers right when winter is upon us,” he continued. “Driving a tractor-trailer in snowy, icy conditions is not the same as driving your four-door sedan in that same weather.”
Still, many industry experts made clear their desire to focus on efforts that would work to boost the supply chain as it stands.
“[Transportation Intermediaries Association] members continue to be industry leaders in the technology space, as they must constantly innovate to address an ever-evolving and growing industry,” said CEO and president of TIA, Anne Reinke. “For example, our members utilize the latest technology to facilitate the movement of freight from one point to another. These solutions include maximum freight visibility with real-time data, automation in the back-end office, and utilizing artificial intelligence.”
It’s also important to look toward the supply chain’s relationship with the current environmental regulations at hand, according to Association of American Railroads’ president and CEO, Ian Jefferies. At the panel, Jefferies asked Congress to make sure federal regulations set forth through the National Environmental Policy Act won’t hinder any new infrastructure coming about.
“Federal agencies should promulgate regulations that allow for careful, thorough consideration of the environmental impacts of proposed projects but in a time-limited manner that does not cause unnecessary delay,” he said. “Such an approach would expedite projects that enhance supply chain fluidity but would not prevent comprehensive, effective environmental reviews from taking place.”
These upcoming infrastructure projects are part of Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
“The bipartisan law will modernize our ports, our airports, [and] our freight rail to make it easier for companies to get goods to market, reduce supply chain bottlenecks–as we’re experiencing now,” said Biden, “and lower costs for you and your family.”