By Sarah Cottrell

Modern life is pretty darn comfy when you think about it. Not only is it increasingly effortless to indulge in any craving (Mexican food? A new iPhone? Fancy jeans?) and simply click a button and have it delivered directly to you, but the speed at which we can receive these goods is dizzying. We can thank the American trucking system for our great fortune because without the hard-working men and women driving goods to and fro, we wouldn’t be able to acquire the things we need in real-time without much grief. 

According to the American Trucking Associations, truckers move more than 72.5% of the nation’s freight by weight, equally 10.23 billion tons every year. Those goods get moved by more than 37.9 million trucks and cover more than 300 million miles of road. 

Unfortunately, the American trucking system, that lifeblood that keeps our modern lives secure and fruitful, has faced a national workforce shortage like other sectors of the economy. In 2021, the trucking industry saw a historic peak workforce shortage of 80,000 drivers. According to the American Trucking Associations estimates, that shortage could reach 160,000 by 2030 if efforts are not made to boost the workforce. 

“A thing to note about the shortage is that before the pandemic, we were adding drivers to the industry – even though we had a shortage, more people were entering the industry,” American Trucking Associations’ Chief Economist Bob Costello said in a media statement. “The issue is that new entrants into the industry didn’t keep up with demand for goods.”

Younger workers are entering the trucking workforce, but the demand for goods is outpacing the number of workers trying to jumpstart their trucking careers, contributing to the gap between the trucking workforce and the American appetite for more goods. But that gap may (hopefully) be finally given a chance to shrink thanks to combined efforts in Washington D.C. and at the American Trucking Associations and the Maine Motor Transport Association.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was passed by Congress and became law in November 2021, which includes $550 billion of new funding for transportation projects that will directly and positively impact truckers nationwide. The bill consists of several notable highlights that will help boost the trucking industry, including $110 billion set aside for building and improving roads, bridges and highways. 

“The IIJA passed with an important nationwide trucking-specific provision that will allow some 18- to 20-year-olds to operate in interstate commerce through a strict apprenticeship program,” said Brian Parke, the Maine Motor Transport Association President and CEO. “These younger drivers are already allowed to operate within the state of Maine and do so safely. Freight doesn’t care about an arbitrary border, and the safety requirements don’t change just because you are in another state.”

Congress passed the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act or the DRIVE Safe Act which allows the Department of Transportation to create a pilot program for licensed commercial motor vehicle drivers under 21 years of age. This program will guide an apprentice through two probationary periods equalling 400 hours total. These periods will include driving time accompanied by an experienced driver. Allowing younger Maine truck drivers to expand their driving experience will be a huge boon, especially when the trucking industry as a whole faces a national deficit of 80,000 drivers in 2021 during the height of the pandemic. 

The Maine trucking industry is eager to see a new generation of truckers step into a fulfilling career, so along with a badly needed injection of funding that the IIJA will provide, Maine has a few other ideas on how to boost the number of drivers. 

“Go Your Way is our workforce development campaign designed to connect with Gen-Z,” Parke said. “It is mainly a social media campaign to get younger people interested in trucking careers, and it has produced some pretty cool stuff.”

The Maine Motor Transport Association also offers the MMTA Education Loan Program, which provides up-and-coming truckers the opportunity to get the education and experience they need before they get behind the wheel. 

“We are offering a 0% interest loan (with some caveats) for people who go to a qualifying Commercial Driving school to get their CDL. We initially thought we would have a couple dozen, but after only 8 months, we have 76 approved loans,” Parke said. 

Costello told the American Trucking Associations that over the next decade, the trucking industry would need to recruit roughly one million new drivers “to close the gap caused by the demand for freight, projected retirements, and other issues,” he said in a statement. 

Here in Maine, the trucking industry is looking ahead at future generations of truckers and finding ways to attract talent. Not only is the pay in Maine rapidly increasing, but there are programs like Go Your Way, funding education through loan programs, and highlighting impressive skills and talents through community-building events like the annual Truck Driving Championships that each help bring interest to a career in trucking.

“I agree that this isn’t just a pay issue because we need to find new and different ways to connect with people to narrow that shortage,” Parke said. “We know that every industry is looking for skilled labor right now — I don’t care whether it is construction, food service, or car sales. Everyone is looking to hire. And we think the job market is soon going to adjust to getting the right people into the right jobs so there is more stability for both employees and employers over the long-term.”

Parke is confident that the Maine trucking industry can connect people who don’t know about trucking to the opportunities the industry offers. Currently, there are 33,690 trucking jobs in Maine with an average annual income of $47,292 and more than 5,300 companies that employ Maine truckers. 

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