ATLANTA, Ga. – When American Trucking Associations president Chris Spear looks at youth, urban centers and military ranks, he sees opportunities to expand the trucking industry’s labor pool. But reaching out to any of the groups will require some different thinking.
Proposed legislation that would allow 18-21-year-olds to drive commercial vehicles across state lines is now moving forward, he said in a state-of-the-industry address to the Technology and Maintenance Council’s annual meeting.
Members of the young demographic group are already able to drive in 48 states, and Spear used his own children as an example to prove why they would be capable of such a job. His son is in the army, and daughter is preparing to enter West Point.
“I know the military is going to invest a tremendous amount of time training my son and daughter,” he said. “Training matters.”
If they’re old enough to defend their country, certainly others in their age group could be trained to safely operate a commercial vehicle.
There are opportunities to reach out to those who have served in the military, too.
Trucking industry jobs could help ensure veterans don’t “fall into the ether”, Spear added.
He also pointed to urban centers as another labor pool.
“I’m talking minorities – African Americans, Hispanics, women. We need to go further than we have before.”
Playing on a saying that the world needs more cowboys, he said the world also needs more technicians and drivers. Telling the story of their role could help.
“We’re a caring and very compassionate industry,” Spear said. “We need to amplify that more throughout American society.”
As vital as new recruits will be, Spear also stressed the need to care for the industry’s existing workforce through the help of wellness programs that reach beyond offering health insurance alone.
“Their health matters,” he said.
His broad address touched on the failing health of U.S. infrastructure as well.
Spear repeated support for a plan to invest a trillion dollars in U.S. infrastructure. The legislation to do that is scheduled to reach the floor of the House of Representatives this June.
“This could be historic,” he said, referring to the $74.5 billion lost annually to congestion – the equivalent of 425,000 drivers sitting idle for an entire year.
“The damage that our equipment endures simply because of our infrastructure is something I’m sure you’re all familiar with,” he told the crowd of fleet maintenance personnel.
Spear scoffed at a policy of the National Parks Service, which would lower speed limits on D.C.’s George Washington Parkway so drivers have more time to avoid the potholes. “That’s your solution?” he asked. “That’s the dumbest policy I’ve every heard.”
Above all, he wants to see truck-hauled trade continue. About 76% of the freight that moves under the existing NAFTA agreement will do so on a truck. But areplacement for that trade deal has yet to be ratified.
“Our ability to move to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is going to be paramount,” he said.
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