For truck drivers, who face long, stressful, and often underpaid hours away from home, for the hundreds of millions of people who rely on the goods delivered by truck every day, and for the safety of everyone who shares the road with truck drivers, we need to finally start addressing this issue.
To do so, we need to understand the root of the problem. The core reason for America’s truck driver capacity issue is the startlingly low retention of current drivers.
So how do we start to turn the tide for trucking?
Earlier this month, as part of President Biden’s Supply Chain Disruption Task Force, we hosted a convening with truck drivers, businesses, labor representatives, advocates, and academics. We discussed a number of ways to increase retention, focused on paying drivers by the hour (rather than the mile) so they’re not incentivized to speed and they’re not penalized for delays they can’t control. We also discussed better training and debt-free routes into the career, changes that empower women and people of color to safely and successfully enter the field, more flexible hours and opportunities, and technologies that improve safety and minimize time away from home. Some of these changes mean altering long-standing business practices, others involve modernization, and in either case our Departments are committed to helping.
We are glad that people are joining the industry — we just need to improve conditions and raise wages so they stay. Until then, we are dealing with a bucket so leaky that simply turning up the faucet cannot solve the problem.
As one strategy to boost retention, we are working together to expand Registered Apprenticeships in the trucking industry. Apprenticeships offer workers high-quality, paid on-the-job training. They’ve been shown to improve job retention across industries.
We’ve also heard questions about whether it’s worth investing energy in this industry, with automated vehicles coming down the road. We think it is. Our efforts on training and apprenticeships will help drivers succeed in the industry today and be poised to adapt in the hybrid industry of the future. The nature of trucking may change, but it will remain a good profession if we help shape the labor protections and training pathways now.
Truck drivers, like doctors and nurses, are essential workers and we need to start treating them that way. We want to help turn hard jobs into challenging and meaningful careers that secure truck drivers a place in the middle class. And making truck driving safer will save lives on our roads.
Just as the truck driver retention problem built up over decades, solving it will be a years- or decades-long effort. But as President Biden says, there is nothing Americans can’t do when we do it together.