Ex-servicemen can ease driver shortage

April 1, 2006
WITH the economy growing at 4.5% or better and the jobless rate falling to 4.7% in March, it's not surprising that the trucking industry, including tank

WITH the economy growing at 4.5% or better and the jobless rate falling to 4.7% in March, it's not surprising that the trucking industry, including tank truck carriers, remains hard pressed to find enough drivers. An even bigger challenge is finding truck drivers with the right qualifications and skills.

The US longhaul, heavy-duty truck transportation industry is hampered by a national shortage of 20,000 truck drivers, according to the American Trucking Associations. The shortage could reach 111,000 by 2014 if current demographic trends stay constant and the overall labor force grows at the same rate we're seeing today.

Traditional sources of new drivers are tapped out in many parts of the United States. Mandatory Federal Bureau of Investigation-based background checks for hazardous materials drivers reduce the pool of potential employees even further.

However, some potential sources of new drivers are not being adequately developed for the trucking industry. The men and women who recently have left the military are a prime example. These are great candidates. They are well disciplined and are ready to start a new career.

Senators Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) have introduced legislation that would make Veterans Administration (VA) funds available for military veterans who want to drive a truck for a living. Known as the Veterans Employment Training Act of 2006, Senate bill S.2416 would add trucking to the list of industry sectors in which ex-servicemen moving into civilian life could receive expedited financial aid.

Under the current G I Bill, the VA funds up to 60% of the cost of some educational benefits to make short-term, high-cost training programs more attractive to veterans. The Burns-Pryor legislation would add trucking to the list that includes construction, hospitality, financial services, energy, homeland security, and health care.

Let's hope the Burns-Pryor legislation finds quick passage in the Senate and that comparable legislation moves through the House of Representatives. This is just a first step, though.

The House and Senate also need to take quick action to help ex-servicemen who served in the military as truck drivers. Currently, their training and experience (often earned under fire in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq) mean nothing to the civilian market.

It's important for tank truck carriers to note that a large number of these military truck drivers have been handling over-the-road fuel shipments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others are involved in refueling operations at airbases and other military facilities around the world. Anyone who reads the news knows it hasn't been a picnic for any of these people.

Steps that need to be taken include mandating a military truck driver license that can be converted to a commercial driver license (CDL) when the serviceman exits the military. States should be required to issue the CDL at little or no cost and with few if any additional testing requirements.

All endorsements (such as cargo tank) should be approved and issued while the serviceman is still in the military. Most importantly, the FBI-based background check for a hazardous materials endorsement should be provided at no cost while the serviceman is still on active duty.

Congress needs to step up and do what is right. And they need to do it now. By helping our servicemen, they will strengthen the trucking industry and build the US economy. It's a win-win-win.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.