Trucker Attrition Feeds Biden Officials’ Supply Chain Concerns

  • Officials to meet Thursday with trucking industry
  • Roundtable part of administration task force

Some of the trucking industry’s biggest challenges, such as driver retention and recruitment, were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, causing major disruptions to the nation’s supply chain over the last year.

As the pandemic begins to wane in the U.S., and the administration’s priorities start to shift from inoculating Americans to revitalizing the economy, top officials are beginning to take steps to address the trucking industry’s maladies.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, and Meera Joshi, deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, are holding a roundtable meeting with the trucking industry Thursday to discuss efforts to improve driver retention and reduce turnover.

The meeting is part of a larger effort from the administration to address supply chain issues.

“Our economy is getting back on its feet, but the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated longstanding challenges in our supply chain — including truck driver retention,” Buttigieg said in a statement.

The meeting comes a month after the Biden administration created a Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force to address the supply chain problems affecting the economic recovery. The task force is led by the secretaries of commerce, agriculture, and transportation.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images))
Long Beach, CA, Wednesday, May 26, 2021

‘Turn into Action’

The Department of Transportation is taking the lead on the task force addressing these issues in the trucking industry, according to a DOT source.

The department will develop an engagement plan to inform the industry about apprenticeship and funding opportunities, and look at what incentives are available from a regulatory perspective, according to the source.

Walsh said the Department of Labor’s registered apprenticeship programs can boost retention and “help build a more stable and resilient workforce.” He said in a statement that he would work with Buttigieg and the industry to expand the registered apprenticeship program.

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Steve Viscelli, an economic sociologist who has written about trucking and worked as a trucker, said the issue stems from the “policy failure” of deregulating the industry in 1980, which has led to new workers doing long hours in big rigs across state lines.

He said a program that starts small and local would help create long-term career paths for people, especially women and workers with children.

“We’re not going to fix this problem until we have very clear guidelines that incentivize the retention of experienced safe drivers—and we just completely threw that out the window when we essentially deregulated and said, anything goes, whoever gets us from point A to point B fastest and cheapest wins,” said Viscelli, now a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. He will also be at the roundtable.

Rates of turnover are about 72% for smaller carriers and about 92% for larger truckload carriers, according to a recent report from the American Trucking Associations.

Bill Sullivan, executive vice president of advocacy for the American Trucking Associations, said the industry has a driver shortage problem. They need to be able to increase the talent pool since the industry’s average driver age is high at around the mid-50s, he said, adding that he hopes federal initiatives “turn into action.”

“We need to find new talent to bring into the industry. We have an average driver age that is well north of what would be ideal and healthy,” said Sullivan, who will be representing ATA at the roundtable. “The pandemic has really reminded Americans how vital the freight industry is.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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