BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — Truck driver shortages continue to plague the supply chain. In fact, Minnesota has its largest deficit of drivers ever.
Minnesota's Trucking Association says the state is down a record 5,285 drivers, and nationwide, that number jumps to 80,000.
To recruit more of them, industry leaders are implementing first-of-their kind programs to tap into two new demographics — teenagers and women.
"The challenge is, it's structural; there aren't people in the pipeline," said John Hausladen. "It’s amazing we can fight for this country and defend it, but you can’t drive a truck when you’re 18 years old."
To tackle the issue, a new federal pilot program will let 18- to 20-year-olds drive big rigs across state lines. Currently, truckers who cross state lines must be at least 21.
The new program is an apprenticeship that has 400 hours of training, including behind the wheel, but only with an experienced driver at their side.
And the trucks must have front-facing video cameras, an automatic transmission and electronic braking, with speeds governed at 65.
"Up until now, there's not been a school-to-work path for young people," said Hausladen. "We think this is going to open a career pathway for trucking in a way that's never existed before."
Industry leaders are applauding the decision, saying it addresses the longtime problem that's rooted more so in recruitment. Ellen Voie has spent years trying to attract more women.
"We really do need to tap into that untapped market," said Voie, who founded the Women In Trucking Association 15 years ago.
She says that women make up just 10% of the driving force. To encourage interest earlier, she launched a new Girl Scout patch that young people can earn, a doll and a driving simulator inside a semi-truck for hands-on learning events across the country.
"Pay them well and respect them, I mean those are the two things," said Voie about also retaining drivers. "And the issue is, we need to tell women that they can do it, that they're wanted, that they're valued."
As for the apprenticeship, it will run and collect safety data for up to three years. The motor carrier agency has to turn in a report to Congress analyzing the safety record of the teen drivers and making a recommendation on whether the younger drivers are as safe as those 21 or older.
After probation, they can drive on their own, but companies have to monitor their performance until they are 21. No more than 3,000 apprentices can take part in the training at any given time.
Safety advocates say the program runs counter to data showing that younger drivers get in more crashes than older ones. They say it's unwise to let teenage drivers be responsible for rigs that can weigh 80,000 pounds and cause catastrophic damage when they hit lighter vehicles.
"If you love to travel, if you love to drive and have a good driving record, and you want to make a decent living, check out trucking," said Voie.
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