Our industry relies on heavy-duty vehicle operators. These drivers hold commercial drivers’ licenses (CDL), and they are part of a shrinking pool of talent. In Ohio, our legislative leaders are paying attention to critical driver shortages and advancing key legislation to help industries like ours.
Fleet management is a critical cost center for all our companies. Whether they are investing in hybrid trucks, installing no idle switches or using load and route optimization software, this industry spends heavily on vehicle purchase, function, insurance and maintenance.
But the most critical part of our product distribution is human infrastructure. Getting our products from production centers to warehouses and into stores, demands qualified drivers. Within this challenge is the constant pressure to optimize production and warehouse logistics (make more products, move more products out efficiently) while meeting high customer demands from retailers with minimal back stock. This means optimizing routes, managing frequent trips and mitigating risk of late deliveries. With this delicate balance, driver shortages are very challenging.
To help with what the Ohio Trucking Association (OTA) projects may be a 200,000-driver shortage by 2025, the Ohio Beverage Association joined an OTA coalition to support three important bills. We believe that all these ideas will enlarge the pool of qualified CDL drivers in Ohio.
Governor Kasich recently signed SB 170 sponsored by Senator Frank LaRose. SB 170 is a creative approach to capitalizing on veterans and military personnel who have driving skills and experience from their service. The law creates a pilot program that would exempt present and former military personnel from the skills test portion of the CDL exam. This saves time and money for both drivers and employers. Once the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) approves the pilot, our Ohio Department of Public Safety will compile data and analyze how well the program has achieved its objectives.
Next, Speaker Ryan Smith’s HB 154 creates a CDL scholarship and loan program to assist the next generation of drivers. We support the long-term approach of HB 154 which gives high school graduates and others another career path to consider and financial help navigating that path. Our members have the jobs and HB 154 will help them put drivers in trucks. House Finance members recently moved the bill out of committee and it may see a full House after summer break.
Finally, Rep. Robert Sprague introduced HB 155 which gives employers an income tax credit for the CDL training they provide. This may directly benefit some of our members who cover training and all fees to employees willing to pursue a CDL. And it will certainly help smaller companies train their own drivers, increasing the pool of qualified operators. More qualified drivers help all companies that use trucks to deliver goods. House Ways and Means members recently moved HB 155 out of committee where it too may see further legislative action this fall.
Our members discussed many of these bills at our 2018 Ohio Beverage Association Legislative Day. It is very encouraging to see members’ advocacy, and strong leadership from allied industries in our OTA coalition support legislators’ efforts to help with this key issue.