ATA's Spear urges Congress to help develop trucking workforce

The U.S. Capitol

American Trucking Association President and CEO Chris Spear told a House committee that Congress needs to do more to help the trucking industry fill jobs. 

"As you know, our industry dutifully answered the nation's call during the COVID-19 pandemic because it was the right thing to do," Spears told the Committee on Education and the Workforce. "We now call on Congress, in that same spirit, to embrace and address our nation's workforce needs. America's trucking industry stands ready to support and work hand-in-hand with you in that effort." 

Spears said the industry is short by 78,000 drivers and 41,000 technicians. 

"Long term, without additional skilled technicians to perform both regular and acute maintenance of trucks, our vehicles will be less safe and fuel efficient -- and so will your automobile," Spears says. 

[RELATED: Five industry groups join forces to create Clean Freight Coalition]

He emphasized that both technicians and drivers make between $50,000 and $80,000 per year, but that regulator barriers that Spears called "obsolete" prevent the industry from offering opportunities to recent high school graduates, those 18 to 20. He also urged Congress to support technician apprenticeship programs, such as the ATA's Registered Apprenticeship Program. That program serves drivers and, in partnership with the Automotive Service Excellence Education Foundation, technicians. 

"The apprenticeship model has stood the test of time and provides a way for individuals to obtain good-paying jobs that enable them to support their families without taking on large student loans," Spears says. "Apprenticeships also give industries such as ours the opportunity to cultivate skilled workers who are equipped to meet the needs of our modern economy." 

He also urged the panel to explore using funding programs like those for higher education for certification programs, such as those for truck driver schools and mechanic programs. 

"Even if changing Pell grant requirements is not a viable option, there should be a proper mechanism for short-term, but high value, programs like CDL education or diesel technician that would allow students access to the same financial support as a degree program — especially if the FTC and other regulators are going to enact rules dissuading employers from investing in workforce development," Spears told the committee.

Spears and the ATA also reiterated support for the U.S. Department of Transportation's Women of Trucking Advisory Board, which held its first meeting in November, and discussed ATA's Women in Motion program. 

"Women represent less than 10% of the professional truck driver and diesel technician workforce," Spears says. "The trucking industry has learned important lessons, and we will continue to pursue meaningful and sustainable progress toward gender equality." 

By taking actions such as updating the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Spears says, and supporting industry education programs, Congress can help fill the trucking industry's jobs. 

""Please first ensure that workers can continue to seek opportunities without the government adding additional red tape or restrictions," Spears told the panel. "Where appropriate, the ATA further recommends that you consider legislative changes to the workforce development system that will better serve the needs of our dynamic, modern economy. Almost all of our public policy and societal challenges are best solved with more freedom and more opportunity, and I urge you to use those principles to guide your legislative efforts." 

He also called on the panel protect independent contractors in the trucking industry, notably the owner-operator model that's served the industry for 90 years. 

"I can think of nothing more un-American than for the government to extinguish the freedom of workers to choose work arrangements that suit their needs and satisfy their ambitions," Spears says. "I want to make it abundantly clear to this committee that restrictive, arbitrary, one-size-fits-all independent contractor classification standards only benefit special interests and paternalistic politicians at the expense of American workers." 

He cited government regulations such as California's AB-5 and rulemaking by federal panels such as the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board as undermining the independent contractor model. 

[RELATED: ATA cautions Congress against letting California drive emission regulations]

"By removing the roadblocks to education discussed above and protecting our workers' ability to earn a living — including those budding entrepreneurs who have launched an independent business," Spears says in conclusion, "we can grow our economy and ensure American competitiveness for future generations."

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