Passing the torch from an aging workforce to the next generation of truck drivers is on the minds of nearly all trucking carriers. Certain programs that promote the recruiting and hiring of younger drivers are increasingly being entertained as a solution by carriers anxious to fill the significant shortage of current drivers in the industry.
Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency apart of the U.S. DOT, proposed the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program back in September 2020. This program would permit 18 to 20-year-old drivers (upon completion of probationary hours) to fully engage in interstate commerce and operate heavy-duty commercial trucks. Certain exceptions apply, but individuals under 21 would now be allowed to move truckload freight across state lines.
With President Biden signing into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last November, the FMCSA has been ordered to implement a program with this exact framework. From this, the agency is expected to then gather data to determine if these younger drivers are not a risk to public safety on roads and highways. Opponents of this program cite that individuals under 21 lack critical experience and are not psychologically developed enough to safely assume the responsibilities associated with interstate truck driving.
Carriers Targeting a Younger Workforce
Steve Binkley of Western Express, a trucking carrier, told Fleet Owner that this program can transition trucking into a “first option rather than a backdoor” for prospective workers. He goes on to say, “When [truck drivers] decided to become a truck driver, it was a backup plan…they weren’t exposed to it when they were 18, 19, 20 years old.”
Bowman, another trucking carrier, also sees the appeal as it signed on as a sponsor of the U.S. Labor Department’s National Apprenticeship Program. Not to be confused with the FMCSA’s pilot program, the National Apprenticeship Program aims to recruit new drivers of all ages. However, Bowman’s primary focus is “targeting the younger workforce”, as Samantha Bodnar, the carrier’s executive officer, told Fleet Owner.
In response to criticisms of younger drivers, specifically under 21, Bowman’s CEO Brian Hall reasons that through hiring mature candidates and providing them with proper training can mold them into safe truck drivers. Courtesy of Fleet Owner, Hall doubles down and believes younger drivers are more receptive to training than senior drivers as “they haven’t developed bad habits yet”.
Attracting the Next Generation of Younger Drivers
While the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program would present an opportunity for individuals under 21 to engage in interstate commerce, the trucking industry cannot assume that these openings will be filled automatically. As Binkley alluded earlier, trucking is seldom viewed as the first option for career choices among young individuals entering the workforce. Coupled with other trade industries in dire need of employees, it is necessary for trucking carriers to attract and retain younger prospects who are considering multiple career paths.
Further supporting its desire to bring on a younger workforce, Bowman has collaborated with the Next Generation in Trucking Association (NGTA), a non-profit trade association aimed to promote trucking careers to high school and college students. NGTA’s president Lindsey Trent told Fleet Owner that providing job opportunities for young drivers right off the bat could render a loyal workforce for carriers trying to fill an impending void left when aging drivers retire.
Trent boils down that this younger workforce, apart of Generation Z, is weary of accumulating similar debts from college loans that they have seen prior generations grapple with. In return, a trucking career provides a favorable income that bypasses the intimidating costs associated with pursuing a college education. A representative of Western Express aligns with Trent’s analysis and told Fleet Owner that truck driving is “a well-kept secret of how much money [drivers] can make and the quality of living that this industry can provide”.
NGTA also encourages carriers to promote innovative technologies that the trucking industry continues to invest in. Driver assistance programs and condition monitoring technologies are just a few of the exciting features that carriers can advertise to prospective drivers.
For a closer look at the FMCSA’s proposed pilot program and its reception across the industry, check out our blog post about it.
Additionally, please do not hesitate to contact one of our team members if you have any further questions on this topic or any others in domestic logistics.