Steering Towards More Truck Drivers

Steering Towards More Truck Drivers

A smooth and efficient supply chain operating at ample velocity provides advantages in today’s hyper-competitive world. Trucks are the key links in that chain, carrying 70% of the freight while enabling all other modes and facilitating practically all services.

In the majority of states, “truck driver” has been the most common job category ever since the US Department of Labor began tracking employment. These modern day “Transporters” are the irreplaceable human assets that do more than just drive – they keep everything running. But “just-in-time” and “want it now” capabilities and expectations are being threatened because of a critical shortage of them.

The toll is mounting across all sectors of the economy, as businesses and consumers are increasingly having to wait for their stuff and pay more for it.

Corporate fleets and trucking companies are reacting with better pay, equipment and home time. Professional transporters enjoy unique freedoms and long-term, rewarding careers. A fleet manager in the upstate recently shared that one of his team drivers earned $110,000 last year. While certainly not the average, it shows the potential within the profession for those with discipline and a willingness to earn it.

Simple steps would further improve earnings and attitudes, but they require help from those with which the industry interacts. Shippers and receivers can be more driver-centric/friendly, provide basic amenities, and reduce wait times. Impatient and distracted car drivers can be more cognizant of how their behavior contributes to a truckers’ stress and exposure to being involved in accidents. We’d all benefit from more lanes, fewer bottlenecks, and ample parking and rest facilities.

Impartial public policy would make these jobs more aspirational and open pathways for employment, but drivers take time to develop.

High schools can follow the lead of Richland County School District One, which is piloting a “CDL Prep” program. Eligible students would get a head start on obtaining their Commercial Drivers’ License (CDL) by learning the mechanical components of trucking equipment and comprehensive safety regulations through their CATE Center. Berkeley Representative Samuel Rivers’ legislation would provide this in five school districts across the state. After graduating, a modified CDL training course from a technical college completes their behind the wheel training and hopefully leads to a CDL.

State and local government fleets need hundreds of workers requiring CDLs and can hire entry-level ones more easily than the private sector. They operate all sorts of trucks, stay local, operate in generally low-speed environments, and are easily supervised. These jobs are custom-made for apprenticing and on-the-job training, while serving as a sort of “farm team” for those who may use it as a springboard for other opportunities. And, public fleets don’t have as much exposure to frivolous and excessive lawsuits when the inevitable accident does occur.

Private sector fleets face greater liability from trucker-hunting TV lawyers, so they can’t readily provide comparable on-the-job training as their public counterparts. Accidents nowadays, as unintentional as they are (and usually not the transporters’ fault), routinely trigger unwarranted demands for punitive damages against truckers. This out of control threat stifles opportunities for nonperfect, but otherwise safe and qualified would be drivers.

The legislature enacted “expungement legislation” to provide a second chance for former inmates who have served their time and stayed straight. It intends to give employers limited punitive damages relief in case an accident occurs after employment, but broader tort reform is certainly long overdue in the automotive litigation arena.

All states allow 18-year olds to drive a truck, but federal rules say they can’t cross a state line until they are 21. The same restriction applies to any freight which is deemed “interstate” in nature. These old, antiquated federal regulations unnecessarily increase logistics costs, restrict driver capacity, and can be modified for reasonable exceptions. The legislature has memorialized Congress to do this.

One final, but significantly broadly-beneficial strategy: reintroduce the skilled trades in a positive light. Too many of our citizens simply don’t know enough about or how to get these jobs. The private sector is ready to partner with the public education and workforce agency stakeholders tasked with cost-effectively producing a ready-to-work citizenry.

A coalition of major, statewide heavy-industry trade groups representing mostly small businesses working under the banner of the Associated Industries of South Carolina Foundation is offering to put some skin in the game to match a relatively modest amount from the state for a multi-year skilled worker recruitment campaign. This public-private partnership would deploy a mobile unit to take innovative interactive experiential (gamification) marketing directly to students and the public at-large. It’s called Be Pro Be Proud.

There should be plenty of pride in having a career in a field that keeps South Carolina moving. We want to fill this need. In fact, we needed it yesterday.

By Rick Todd
President and CEO
The South Carolina Trucking Association