Using the new infrastructure law and its funding as a base, the White House plans initiatives over the next 90 days to strengthen the trucking workforce and lay the groundwork for long-term supply chain improvements.
The Biden-Harris Trucking Action Plan, released Thursday morning, focuses on increasing the trucking workforce with veterans and more diverse applicants. “It's clear we need more truckers to move the historic volume of goods moving through our economy,” a senior Biden administration official said before the plan was unveiled.
“We're working hard with states to streamline the CDL process to reduce delay times it takes from taking your tests and getting your license,” another senior administration official said. “And we're providing states with toolkits—strategies they can use to achieve those important results.”
While a lot of the trucking action plan includes initiatives that were mandated by the bipartisan infrastructure law that President Joe Biden signed in November, a senior official said the administration is strengthening these initiatives by pushing the Labor Department to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).
The official noted that trucking’s workforce challenges existed before the COVID-19 pandemic made them worse, but the supply chain won’t be improved just by flooding the market with new drivers. “There are some sectors where there’s a shortage of truckers, and then there are some sectors where there is congestion and delay, which makes it difficult for existing truckers to do their job efficiently,” the official said. “Adding more truck drivers, for example, in places like the ports is not necessarily solving a problem. Reducing delays and congestion is what solves productivity problems at the port—so it’s not a one-size-fits-all.”
Long-haul, full-truckload drivers spend an average of 6.5 hours per day driving, despite hours-of-service regulations that allow them to operate for up to 11 hours, according to a White House estimate. They don't drive more because of excess detention times at terminals and warehouses and other delays that clog the supply chain. With demand for truck drivers on the rise, wages have increased 7% to 12% in the last year, according to the White House, but employment in some trucking segments is still below pre-pandemic levels.
On Thursday, USDOT and the Labor Department are launching efforts to support and expand access to “quality driving jobs now and in the years ahead,” according to the White House. Both departments plan to accelerate a registered apprenticeship program expansion to train and employ “more skilled, safe drivers on the road.”
This includes streamlining how commercial driver's licenses (CDL) are issued and “curbing the proliferation of low-quality training that increased the supply of less qualified drivers who end up in debt or being exploited,” according to the Biden plan. It also calls for creating paths for veterans and “underrepresented communities, such as women,” to find good-paying driving jobs.
Noting that long-haul trucking is one of the most demanding segments to attract new drivers, a senior administration official said the White House’s new trucking action plan is “spotlighting the government’s focus on truck driving as a career—one that we support, one that’s a profession, and one that has promise in the long run.”
Reducing barriers to getting CDLs
In 2021, more than 50,000 CDLs and commercial learner’s permits were issued on average each month, a 20% increase over 2019’s figures and 72% higher than 2020’s. DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are supporting state departments of motor vehicles as they deal with surging CDL issuance rates.
FMCSA will provide more than $30 million to help states expedite CDLs, the White House announced. FMCSA is sending all 50 states a “toolkit detailing specific actions they can take to expedite licensing and will work hand-in-hand with states to address challenges they are facing,” according to the plan. FMCSA also will begin closely tracking delays, identifying states that have challenges with issuing CDLs, and communicating with all 50 governors about ways they can reduce delays in issuing CDLs
90-day apprenticeship expansion challenge
Administration officials are planning a national 90-day challenge to recruit trucking industry employers interested in developing and expanding federal registered apprenticeship programs, which could speed up how quickly new drivers could be trained and deployed, according to senior administration officials.
The goal, according to one official, is to add to the already more than 10,000 trucking apprenticeships to compete with training programs. Unlike enrolling at a school to learn the industry, the apprenticeships pay potential drivers to learn the craft.
“The registered apprenticeship on an accelerated basis allows for quality paid training on that same kind of timeline and it competes with what the training schools out there that may not be providing the same level of quality and certainly aren't always doing it where they pay the driver to train,” the official said.
The White House plans to focus on all segments of professional driving apprenticeships—“from long haul to last mile, from cargo containers fresh off of ships to tank trucks transporting essential fuel.”
The Labor Department is offering consultants across the country to assist organizations interested in starting new or joining existing apprenticeship programs. For example, the Labor Department's Office of Apprenticeship launched a 90 Day Apprenticeship Trucking Challenge website on Thursday for interested employers, unions, and intermediaries.
The DOT and Labor plan to work with the Trucking Alliance and American Trucking Associations (ATA) to engage their members “on the value of registered apprenticeships.” Biden administration officials also said that several for-hire and private trucking fleets have committed to working with the administration on this program. They include EVO Trucking, D.M. Bowman, Yellow Corporation, Florida Rock and Tank, Total Transportation, CRST, and Albertsons.
According to the White House, there are about 70,000 military veterans in the U.S. with certified trucking experience in the past five years. The Labor Department Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will work with veterans service and military service organizations, unions, trucking associations, training providers, and private partners to offer transitioning service members and veterans opportunities in trucking. In addition, the Labor Department and VA will work to ensure veterans’ driving experience is recognized for those seeking CDLs and will build on proven models, such as SkillBridge programs for transitioning service members.
Driving Good Jobs initiative
USDOT and Labor launched a joint Driving Good Jobs initiative, a new partnership between the agencies. It will include
Hosting listening sessions that engage drivers, unions and worker centers, industry, and advocates.
“Lifting up” employers and best practices that support job quality and driver retention that can be scaled.
Working together to implement research and engagement efforts outlined in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including studying the issue of truck driver pay and unpaid detention time.
Identifying effective and safe strategies to get new entrants in the field from underrepresented communities, including women and young drivers between the ages of 18-20.
Setting up a task force to investigate predatory truck leasing arrangements.
Identifying longer-term actions, such as potential administrative or regulatory actions that support drivers and driver retention by improving the quality of trucking jobs.
The trucking timeline over next 90 days
USDOT and the Labor Department plan to begin listening sessions with drivers, industry and labor leaders, and other advocates to hear their perspectives on trucking issues.
Those being on Thursday, Dec. 16, in South Carolina, where Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FMCSA Deputy Administrator Meera Joshi will join Labor Department and White House representatives to meet with industry members.
Within the next month, FMCSA also plans to begin issuing extra funding to states to streamline CDL processing and testing. Along with launching the apprenticeship challenge, USDOT and Labor will begin a driver compensation and time study, part of the infrastructure law. Work with veteran groups will also start in the next 30 days, according to a White House fact sheet.
In the next 60 days, FMCSA will launch its pilot program to train commercial drivers between 18 and 21 years old, as mandated in the infrastructure law. This will tie in with the registered apprenticeship program. The Labor Department and USDOT will begin hosting “apprenticeship accelerator” meetings to help more companies develop programs. The departments will also release “quickstart toolkits” for trucking apprenticeship programs.
Also, over the next two months, various departments within the Biden administration will hold roundtable discussions about how to transition service members with trucking experience into CDL drivers in the trucking industry.
In the next 90 days, the Labor Department will announce the results of its 90-day apprenticeship challenge and any other new partnerships it creates over the next three months. In the coming months, the departments will launch a task force to promote the recruitment, inclusion, and advancement of women in trucking, which was established by the infrastructure law. Other parts of the infrastructure law, such as a task force to investigate predatory truck leasing agreements, will also launch in the next 90 days.
And at the end of this 90-day period, March 16, the federal departments intend to “deliver a comprehensive action plan, informed by its series of listening sessions, outlining any further administrative and regulatory actions the administration can take to support quality trucking jobs.”
While many of these actions are short-term solutions with potential long-term effects, beefing up the trucking industry can’t be done overnight, a senior administration official said.
“Bringing people into the profession is not something like flipping a switch,” the official said. “Truck drivers have to train, they have to work with a trainer for a while. They have to be mentored in order to be safe truck drivers. And they have to get paid well, and their time has to be accounted for once they are in the profession in order for them to want to stay in the profession. This highlights the need for us to view truck driving as a profession and treat it as such—both in the training and in the job quality initiatives. There are no shortcuts.”