More emphasis coming on driver schools

The trucking industry can meet its long-term driver staffing needs only if it recruits many more drivers out of driving school, the chairman of the American Trucking Associations’ Driver Recruiting/Retention Committee said Thursday, Aug. 25.

Speaking to the GATS Fleet Forum, Ray Kuntz, chief executive officer of Helena, Mont.- based Watkins and Shepard Trucking, noted that the truck driver population is aging – a principal reason why the driver shortage is expected to grow to 111,000 by 2014 from 20,000 today. According to a recent study conducted for ATA by Global Insight, about 20 percent of truck drivers are 55 years old or older.

There simply isn’t a supply of new drivers to offset the expected loss in the next 10 years, Kuntz says. So the ATA committee is focusing much of its ongoing efforts on promoting trucking as a career and on helping driving schools finance entry-level training.

Kuntz acknowledges that one reason fleets don’t hire more drivers out of schools is that insurance companies discourage it and force them to hire drivers with at least 1 to 3 years’ experience. That’s hardly surprising, Kuntz jokes. “I would like to be an insurance company and insure your trucks as they are parked along the wall. I’ll take that risk all day long.”

Driver schools could produce more drivers, but many candidates can’t afford the tuition or the time spent training without an income, Kuntz says. Among the tools the industry is pursuing are federal grants, including $5 million in the newly enacted highway bill; closer relationships among carriers, schools and lending institutions; and a loosening of the Montgomery G.I. Bill restrictions so that the program works effectively for the short terms of driving schools. G.I. Bill payments are subject to monthly caps that are incompatible with a six-week program, Kuntz says.