Recently I had a chance to testify in support of legislation that would help with commercial truck driver shortages. HB 154, proposed by Representatives Ryan Smith and Nathan Manning, would set aside $5 million to provide grants and loans for students to attend truck driving school. For an industry like mine, this is welcome news and an important step towards addressing critical CDL driver shortages.
My members constantly innovate—from diverse beverage portfolios to operational efficiency, this industry is always looking for a better way to go to business. 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 Class A CDL drivers. Getting our products from production centers to warehouses and into stores demands qualified drivers. Adding to our challenge is attracting and keeping drivers willing to thread an 18 wheeler through city streets, alleyways and tight loading docks.
DRIVER SHORTAGE CHALLENGE
My colleague Tom Balzer, CEO of the Ohio Trucking Association, is a champion of HB 154 and other approaches to address driver shortages. In his testimony before the Ohio House Education and Career Readiness Committee, he speculated that Ohio may have as many as 45,000 job openings for truck drivers. The shortage of new drivers is compounded by an aging workforce, strict federal requirements for CDL’s and the expense of driving school for many young people. Our members are competing with other industries and private firms looking for talent.
How does this play out for us? One of my members recently posted two jobs in Twinsburg–one for a warehouse worker and one for a Class A CDL driver. He had over 60 applicants for the warehouse and zero for the driver. Another member in Columbus had a driver shortage last month that idled 4-6 trucks nearly every day. If we don’t have drivers, our business literally stops and goods are not delivered.
To combat driver shortages and a shrinking pool of qualified drivers, my industry often uses a “grow your own” approach. We find existing employees willing to train and pay for their CDL. This is a costly and time-consuming process with our members spending an average of $6,000 for the training and investing 6-8 weeks to train. Another approach is to get newly permitted drivers and offer “finish” training and continuous coaching.
If we successfully train, often an employee will quit after their employer invests time and money. If we successfully recruit from a small pool of already licensed drivers, many of these drivers come with a federal “E” restriction because they took their required skills test in a truck with an automatic transmission. Most of our trucks are manual drive and an “E” restriction disqualifies a driver from operating our trucks.
HB 154 LONG TERM APPROACH
We appreciate the long term approach HB 154 takes in growing the pool of qualified CDL drivers. By giving the next generation of high school graduates another career path to consider, and financial help navigating that path, HB 154 will grow interest in commercial truck driving. This, in turn, will supply more drivers to our member companies who are ready to pay great wages and benefits. We have the jobs and HB 154 will help us put drivers in trucks.
I want to thank Representatives Smith and Manning for their leadership on this critical issue. I also want to thank my colleague Tom Balzer at the Ohio Trucking Association for his creative approach to workforce challenges. We hope HB 154 will be enacted this year and in place soon.