SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minnesota (WCCO) – As America grapples with supply chain bottlenecks – including fewer truck drivers on the road carrying freight – a new program in the federal infrastructure package would allow some 18-year-olds driving 18-wheeled vehicles.
The pilot apprenticeship program would allow 3,000 adults under the age of 21 to travel long train journeys across state borders. They would have to complete hundreds of hours of study with an experienced driver to be certified.
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The legal age limit for interstate commerce is currently 21, although many states allow 18, 19, and 20-year-olds to drive semi-trucks carrying goods within state borders. , according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Bill Collins, owner of Interstate Truck Driving School in South St. Paul, said he didn’t think the new change would make a big dent in solving the problem.
Enrollment in its program has remained mostly stable, even this year following demand from drivers and companies offering higher wages.
Keeping drivers well paid – wages are as high as Collins has seen them since he started in the industry in 1975 – and offering good equipment could retain more workers, Collins said.
That, and tap into a key part of the workforce: women, who today represent between 6 and 7% of truck drivers, according to various estimates. This figure represents a fraction of the total number of women working today.
“To be honest with you, we haven’t had a lot of interest from the younger generation in driving trucks,” he said. “I think the industry needs to welcome more women and that would, I think, have a bigger advantage than attracting 18, 19 and 20 year olds.”
The bill establishes a Women’s Trucking Advisory Council to provide education and training; and to recruit, retain or advance women in the industry.
This year will break a record, according to the American trucking associations, with the industry short of 80,000 drivers to meet the demands of an economy that relies heavily on trucks for transporting goods. In 2019, trucks carried over 70% of all freight, said the group.
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But the provision is raising concerns among safety advocates, who say the problem the trucking industry faces is not a shortage of workers but a retention issue. They note the dangers of the job and think it shouldn’t be left to teenagers.
A US Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis claims that heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers have one of the highest rates of injury and illness of any occupation and that the lifestyle is grueling, requiring many hours of driving on the road alone and lifting heavy loads.
“The trucking industry shouldn’t be tapping into high school hallways and putting them on high speed highways,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
The median annual salary of heavy truck and semi-trailer drivers was $ 47,130 in May 2020, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, which forecasts approximately 231,100 openings for heavy truck and tractor-trailer operators each year, on average, over the next decade.
Many of the openings will be the result of employees changing careers or completely leaving the workforce and retiring.
But Andover’s Joanna Sager leaves behind a 20-year career to start a new one as a truck driver, training at Interstate Driving School. She and her husband will drive as a team to tour the country and spend some quality time together.
“They have changed and are changing things to make it more comfortable for [women]”Sager said, noting the changes to showers, bathrooms and seating areas largely aimed at men.” I think it’s a profession to practice that women would appreciate. “
There are over 1.9 million truck driver jobs in the United States and Duluth is the highest paying metropolitan area for drivers.
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