By J. Richards Todd
S.C. Trucking Association
Baby Boomers took Waylon Jennings’ and Willie Nelson’s “Mammas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys,” hit song too seriously. Waylon and Willie were merely whimsically lyricizing about physical labor, manhood, independence and education. If we want our economy to function at full throttle, we've got to lighten up.
The skilled workers who build things, run our factories, maintain our machinery, and drive our trucks drive the American economy.
Today, students who want to pursue a relatively fast, inexpensive technical education on the road to a professional skill they can be proud of should be supported and encouraged by their parents and society at-large. Next to those who put on a uniform and keep us all safe, these operators might very well be the most important to the American way of life.
The majority of modern US Census reports have shown truck driving as the most common job in America. Automotive technology is advancing at a rapid pace, beyond our imaginations of just a few years ago. But for at least the next generation, and because of the nature of complex logistics, trucks are going to require human operators. And our needs and expectations as consumers will demand more transportation services, warehousing and trucks – lots of trucks.
Trucks are the physical backbone of e-commerce, and person-to-person shipments are their exclusive domain. Because of this, trucking’s modal market share is over 70% and projected to grow. Most fleet owners and service providers who depend on trucks cite the shortage of qualified and experienced drivers as their number one concern. Shippers are also starting to experience the capacity crunch, and they will join the chorus, when supply chain delays and concurrent cost increases hit their bottom lines.
A recent legislatively-mandated study committee found that less than .5% (one-half of one percent!) of South Carolina’s commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders are between 18 and 21 years old, but 45% are over the age of 52. They confirmed we presently suffer from a shortage, and these statistics point to an impending crisis.
South Carolina, like practically all states allow 18-year-olds to obtain a CDL. Even then, the best new CDL licensees are finding themselves unhireable because the private sector can't get inexperienced, young operators insured. The other hurdle is the federal minimum age limit of 21 to operate in inter-state commerce.
So, where is a young, inexperienced, aspiring CDL holder to get a job? We submit that government agencies who run these types of trucks hire them fresh out of tech/CDL school. Government entities have limited liability, operate locally and generally in low-speed environments. And their operators are closely supervised and home every night.
As publicly-funded government entities, cooperation between the State's Technical College System, and city, county, and state-owned fleet operators to recruit, train and develop drivers and mechanics would seem to be a natural. Why not put the government to work for us by creating ready employment while developing a "farm team" for the private sector? Everybody needs truck operators, so the more we expand the pool, the better for all.
Meanwhile, mature workers looking for more freedom, daily adventure, and a better view might consider driving for a living. Today's trucks are more technologically advanced, clean, comfortable, and safe than you might think. Most over the road units now are equipped with satellite radio (truckers even have their own channel) and a great stereo system to boot.
People who have enough self-discipline to stay off drugs and conduct themselves in a law-abiding matter can find well-paying, satisfying careers in the transportation, distribution, and logistics industries (TDL).
While the ‘70’s touring duo may have encouraged “let ‘em be doctors and lawyers and such,” I submit, in that regard, they were only half right. In more romantic, less frantic times, truckers were viewed as "Knights of the Road."
In other hits Waylon poetized “maybe it's time we got back, to the basics...,” and Willie sang joyfully about getting “on the road again.”
This generation might want to seriously consider getting back to the basics, on the road again doing what made this country great, and that’s building and moving things.
J. Richards Todd is president and CEO of the South Carolina Trucking Association, an 83- year old, statewide alliance of businesses that use or depend on trucks.