June 2019 The Roemer Report

Eighteen Good Reasons to Hire Young Truckers

Can you think of “Eighteen” good reasons to hire a an 18-year-old driver? Considering the chronic, and worsening driver shortage, there’s a biggie right there. How ever-many good reasons you might come up with yourself, the notion that opening commercial trucking to high-school aged people is gaining momentum in the industry. Folks are starting get on the bandwagon. Recent announcements by the FMCSA and legislators in Alabama are demonstrating this agenda is moving forward in some very meaningful ways.

Time to fill the pipeline

Eighteen year-olds can now apply for a CDL in Alabama. Offering the non-military a pathway to the profession, HB479 was signed into law the end of May by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. Notable is how the Alabama law provides for a few well-reasoned restrictions on those 18-21 “youngsters” who want to drive a truck professionally.

According to local Montgomery TV affiliate WHNT 19 News, HB479 limits young drivers in the following ways:

  • Limited to Class A CDL only
  • No hazmat or passenger endorsements
  • Prohibited from operating oversize or specially configured loads requiring a permit from ALDOT
  • Limited to commercial driving within the State of Alabama only

Travel within Alabama would be allowed, but federal law still bans travel between states for those under 21. Channel 19 interviewed local firm Steve Cagle Trucking’s Walker Cagle. Cagle was clear in his opinion – totally in favour. Currently, said the report, the company is running 12 trucks with 11 drivers.

Imagine, a world where there is a driver for each truck

As one could imagine, Cagle is not exactly happy with the math, noting that having an operator for each truck would be ideal. “Younger drivers would help with the constant search,” explains Cagle. "If you don't have young workers coming into the industry, your industry is in big trouble because you're gonna have people retiring, phasing out and you're going to need those young people coming in and filling that void." Yep, that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

Feds in on the act too

In July 2018, the FMCSA announced details of its Commercial Driver Pilot Program toggled by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which provided a route for young military trained people to obtain their CDLs. Couple years later and now that’s morphing into something a bit more inclusive.

A “Youth movement” to get behind

On May 14, FMCSA announced it was seeking public comment on a potential pilot program to allow drivers ages 18-20 to operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate commerce.

“Commercial trucks and buses are essential to a thriving national economy, and the Department wants to ensure the public has an opportunity to comment on this important potential change,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

Wanting to expand the playing field to more potential drivers, the Feds opened this second pilot program seeking public input and commentary on allowing non-military drivers to operate commercial trucks across state lines. Formally the FMCSA “seeks requests comments on the training, qualifications, driving limitations, and vehicle safety systems that FMCSA should consider in developing options or approaches for a second pilot program for younger drivers.”

Summarizing the effort’s praise-worthy goals, FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez framed their mission: “We want input from the public on efforts that offer the potential to create more jobs in the commercial motor vehicle industry, while maintaining the highest level of safety. We encourage all CMV stakeholders to submit comments on a potential interstate pilot program for younger drivers.”

Creating a sustainable, professional trades

In a world where the culture is shifting the age of maturity further and further out, this trend had a refreshing tone. There has always been plenty of evidence that there are plenty of 18 year-olds mature enough to handle high-levels of responsibility. Certainly, there is evidence to the contrary, but the industry is really speaking only to this demographic’s better nature.

After 30 – 40 years of pushing higher ed as opposed to vocational ed as the pinnacle of societal virtue, the pendulum is swinging back—especially when the economy is generating jobs in so many technical and hands-on ways. One thing the US economy and its many players have been very lazy about is creating sustainable pathways for young people to enter professional trades and that includes truck driving. From unions, to fleet operators to equipment manufacturers and government and education agencies of many stripes, there seems to be little evidence of effective alignment to fill these jobs effectively.

Embrace these volunteers, they’re self-selecting

Without admonishing trucking’s role or lack thereof of adequately institutionalizing effective paths to attract the human capital (people) to operate their fleets, it seems all efforts to allow more “adults” – you know the legal term used to identify people 18 or older— into the profession should be embraced as the opportunity it is.

Concerns for safety and liabilities – all the risks associated with hiring 18 year old CDLs – can be managed. Institutionalized safety and training programs that paired experience drivers with recruits and other phased approaches might be one place to start.

If a young woman or man makes it clear they’re interested in becoming a commercial driver, then the trucking industry should be clear on how to actually help that person become one. With state and federal lawmakers expanding access to a younger group of potential drivers, trucking’s fleet and equipment leaders should do the same and embrace these youthful volunteers wanting to step up, and into the cab. Are their eighteen good reasons to hire young drivers? Definitely.