By Frank Giles
Alix Miller, president and CEO of the Florida Trucking Association, told attendees of the Citrus & Specialty Crop Expo held in August in North Fort Myers, Florida, that the trucking industry in Florida and nationally has a problem.
Supply chain disruptions and clogged ports spurred by COVID-19 made logistical challenges more apparent to the public, but Miller said this problem was brewing well before the pandemic. The problem? A lack of truck drivers.
During the Expo’s general session, she addressed the driver shortage and how it impacted the supply-chain strain agriculture and other industries have endured in recent years. Estimates show there is a shortage of about 80,000 U.S. truck drivers.
Miller said there are several efforts underway to get more drivers on the road. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has a pilot project running to collect data on allowing 18- to 21-year-old drivers cross interstate lines. Those young drivers can currently drive intrastate, but they cannot cross state lines. If the data show these drivers can be safe, the administration could ease the regulation.
“The Florida Trucking Association is a partner with the FleetForce Truck Driving School where our members sponsor students and pay for their tuition,” Miller said. “One week after we launched the program, we had 2,000 applicants. As of today, we have 7,000 applicants on a waiting list. This shows the interest is there, we just need better accessibility.”
The U.S. Department of Labor and Florida Department of Education has also launched an apprenticeship program where companies can register to receive incentives to support and train new drivers once they have gotten their commercial driver’s license.
Miller added we need to think beyond the old stereotypes of truck drivers. With nearly 51% of the U.S. population being female, efforts need to be made to recruit operators from that segment.
“Right now, about 9% of our drivers are women,” she said. “Through our partnership with FleetForce, about 30% of graduates are female. We need to better understand and market (truck driving) to these new groups.”
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