By Eugene Mulero, Transport Topics
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor has partnered with American Trucking Associations for an apprenticeship program that could play a significant role in easing the industry’s driver shortage, and presents motor carriers with an opportunity to directly work with and train new entrants to boost their driving ranks.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh was joined by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and ATA leadership at a March 1 signing ceremony at the department’s headquarters to formally establish ATA as an official registered apprenticeship sponsor.
The signing ceremony centered on a 90-day apprenticeship challenge launched by the Biden-Harris administration. The challenge is meant to recruit employers interested in developing Registered Apprenticeship programs, which are designed to provide paid, on-the-job training. Since the launch of the challenge in December, more than 300 employers, industry and workforce groups have joined, per the Labor Department.
With its official federal apprenticeship sponsor designation, ATA will work with Fastport, a Labor Department transportation and logistics intermediary, to administer the apprenticeship program for ATA member companies. Participating carriers will be required to meet certain training and compensation metrics as part of the two-year apprenticeships.
“We appreciate American Trucking Associations joining the effort to expand Registered Apprenticeships to meet the needs of the nation’s employers while connecting workers to good-paying jobs and a path to middle-class wages and opportunities,” Walsh said. “What I love about Registered Apprenticeship is that it is a partnership. When employers and industry step up, we are ready to partner and support them to adopt this high road-training model to meet their critical workforce needs.”
ATA executives and Cabinet secretaries acknowledged the benefits associated with apprenticeships.
“We worked really hard over the last few months — with all the challenges that this administration faces — to be a part of this discussion, to be listened to, for our drivers to be respected and heard. It’s just so deeply appreciated. And I think we all are committed to growing the economy. And we all have some pretty lofty ideas for doing it. And this is one example of, really, the commitment resulting in an outcome,” ATA President Chris Spear said.
“We believe this is the right approach for this program,” Spear added. “Registered Apprenticeship are a time-tested approach to workforce development. It’s producing lasting skills that provide a path to family-sustaining wages. We’re the glue. So to celebrate today the launch of a national apprenticeship program, the timing of it couldn’t be better. And we do this, we do this right, I think we’re going to put this country on the correct path.”
“I’m proud to be here recognizing the great training and wages that our industry has always provided for our drivers and making a continued commitment to a quality career and opportunity,” said ATA Chairman Harold Sumerford, CEO of J&M Tank Lines.
“Drivers throughout the country have spoken with me about the rewards and the challenges of this career, and it’s clear we need to do more to build and support the trucking workforce,” Buttigieg said. “The Biden-Harris administration is working with the trucking industry and drivers to quickly launch Registered Apprenticeship programs that provide high-quality paid job training, reduce debt for drivers and increase the number of drivers who stay in the job.”
Also attending the ceremony were Alphonso Lewis, an America’s Road Team Captain and professional driver with YRC Freight, as well as Darren Hawkins, CEO of Yellow Corp. and Robin Hutcheson, acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The administration launched its trucking action plan to alleviate supply chain bottlenecks via recruitment and retention efforts across the trucking industry. American Trucking Associations has determined the industry is short about 80,000 commercial drivers.