The U.S. trucking industry will need 1 million new drivers over the next 10 years, Sherri Garner Brumbaugh (above) told attendees at the American Home Furnishings Alliance Specialized Furniture Carriers Logistics Conference in Wilmington, N.C., June 19.
“We need to attract younger people into our industry,” she said, citing an aging workforce and regulations that – while important – can slow down and raise costs for the shipment of goods on American highways.
Brumbaugh is president and CEO of Garner Trucking Inc. in Findlay, Ohio, a company that was started by her late father 60 years ago. “I’m proud to be a truck driver’s daughter,” she said, recalling the Friday nights and Saturdays she spent washing trucks as a high school student.
She has far greater responsibilities now.
“I wake up every day trying to improve the lives of my drivers and their families,” she said.
A voice in Washington is important
That includes addressing issues of safety and driver health and wellness. Brumbaugh does that, not only as an employer, but through the American Trucking Associations, where she currently serves as second vice chairman. In that role, she said she appreciates “how important it is to have that voice in Washington.”
The trucking industry is highly regulated, she said. Rules are necessary – after all, “We’re driving large vehicles on our highways,” she said, but sometimes they don’t make sense.
For example, at a time when more young drivers are needed, those who are 18- to 21-year-old are not allowed to drive across state lines. That means they can drive 200 miles from Findlay in northwestern Ohio to Cincinnati but not 50 miles to Detroit in Michigan. “It’s one of those crazy regulations,” Brumbaugh said.
That’s why ATA in pushing for a bill in Congress, the Drive Safe Act, that would create apprenticeships for young drivers, which would allow them to cross state lines once they complete a training program that Brumbaugh said would have tougher requirements that a commercial driver’s license.
Companies also are looking for drivers, Brumbaugh said, among military veterans and “nontraditional workers” through “second-chance hiring” – meaning people who have been incarcerated. ATA also is lobbying to expand the scope of Pell grants, which provide financial assistance for higher education, to cover training costs for new drivers.
Brumbaugh said “there have to be conversations” about opening the transportation market to drivers from Canada and Mexico. She acknowledged that the subject of allowing Spanish-speaking drivers on U.S. highways raises some concerns, but she likened it to hiring two hearing-impaired drivers at her company. “It went from them learning to communicate with us to we had to learn how to communicate with them,” she said. In the end, it’s not much of a problem because, thanks to other forms of communication, “We hardly talk to our drivers anymore.”
Hours of service rules should be more flexible
Another set of regulations, restricting hour of service on the road, should allow more flexibility, Brumbaugh said. When a driver reaches the maximum hours permitted during the day, the problem of parking the truck “causes the most anxiety,” especially if rest areas are full.
“They have to get their rest, but where are they getting their rest? Being on the side of a ramp is not a great place to get rest,” she said.
Another headache is the push by government to reclassify independent contractors as employees.
“That category of people in our country is under threat,” Brumbaugh said. “We’re trying to protect it, absolutely. There is a place for it. That’s how my dad started.”
Doug Clark is content manager, government relations liaison and author of the Policy Matters blog for the Home Furnishings Association.