Key Biden administration officials are expected Thursday to announce a plan to breathe new life into the beleaguered U.S. trucking industry as the White House expands its effort to mend America’s supply chain.
The plan aims to put more drivers behind the wheel by stepping up initiatives to recruit military veterans into the industry, and by launching an apprenticeship accelerator aimed at helping employers start or grow their apprenticeship programs.
The administration will also conduct a series of listening sessions over the next 90 days as the Labor and Transportation departments work together to streamline the licensing process, knock down barriers to women entering the profession and make quality-of-life improvements for truckers.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will join Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese in unveiling details behind the Biden-Harris Trucking Action Plan during a White House roundtable with trucking-industry leaders.
The trucker shortage, which the industry has warned of since at least the 1980s, has reached critical mass, as COVID-19 shutdowns have triggered widespread layoffs while temporarily closing the state DMVs and driver-training schools that serve as the industry’s pipeline.
A senior administration official said the problems that the plan aims to address are longstanding and not merely a result of industry shake-up from the pandemic.
“But in this worker-centered recovery, these new investments and infrastructure, and this new focus by this administration, gives us the opportunity to work together across industry, government and labor to take these challenges on,” the official said.
The shortage of truck drivers is just one of the weak links in America’s broken supply chain that President Biden is struggling to fix.
For him, the high prices and empty shelves that emanate from the huge backups at California shipping ports are a political problem, as unhappy consumers quickly become unhappy voters.
The administration has taken several steps to ease congestion at U.S. ports by expanding working hours and reducing the number of containers onshore at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which together handle 40% of containerized goods imported into the U.S.
But the importance of the trucking industry cannot be understated as it is the primary mode of freight transportation within the country.
“Trucks were estimated to have hauled 61 percent of the total freight (by value) transported in the United States in 2016, and this activity accounted for an estimated 3.5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated in a recent report.
The trucking companies, too, are suffering from the bottleneck in the supply chain, including shortages of parts or even trucks. But the lack of drivers is the industry’s biggest concern.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the trucking industry lost about 91,000 operators, or 6% of its pre-pandemic workforce of 1.52 million.
The American Trucking Associations said the industry faces a years-long hiring and retention crisis that was short 60,000 drivers in 2019, which it predicts will swell to 100,000 in two years.
The group estimated that with the combination of driver retirements and the expected growth in freight demand, the industry will need to hire roughly 1.1 million drivers over the next decade, or an average of nearly 110,000 per year.
Biden administration officials are hopeful that their new plan go a long way in shoring up the industry.
“Solving the issues won’t happen overnight, but we can be innovative and take action now,” a senior Biden administration official said.
Correction: A previous version of this story had a typo in the headline.
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