Jun 15, 2023

DOT to Make Changes in Trucking Apprenticeship Program

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is set to make changes in the trucking apprenticeship program, which has been a critical initiative for the industry's workforce development. The apprenticeship program has been instrumental in addressing the shortage of commercial drivers and providing them with an effective training model that enhances their skills and expertise on the road.

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The DOT's proposed changes will likely have far-reaching implications for both employers and aspiring truckers. It is expected to address some of the challenges faced by carriers, such as recruiting and retaining skilled drivers while ensuring a safe transportation system.

This article delves into what these changes will entail, how they will impact the industry, and what it means for those seeking careers in trucking.

Current issues: Shortcomings of the Current program

The current trucking apprenticeship program has been under scrutiny for its shortcomings. Some of the major issues include a lack of consistency in training and certification standards across different states, inadequate pay for apprentices, and insufficient support from employers.

In addition, many apprentices have reported experiencing harassment or discrimination on the job.

One key problem with the current program is that it does not provide enough hands-on experience for new drivers. So how can they become experienced drivers?

Many apprentice drivers are required to spend long hours sitting in classrooms, learning theoretical concepts instead of getting behind the wheel. This disjointed approach to training fails to adequately prepare drivers for real-world situations they will encounter on the job.

Another issue is that there is no standardization in terms of certification requirements across state lines. As a result, many drivers who complete their apprenticeships in one state may not be qualified to work in another because they do not meet local licensing or certification requirements.

This can create significant barriers to employment for those who want to work as professional truckers across multiple states or regions.

Proposed Changes as of May 2023: Legislation Mandates that the DOT Undertake Significant Alterations to Fortify the Faltering Apprenticeship Initiative

On May 2023, a bill intended to bolster participation in a struggling truck driver apprenticeship pilot program was presented in the House of Representatives. Attention 20-Year-Old Drivers. The DRIVE Safe Integrity Act, sponsored by Representatives Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), seeks to amend the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, which was established as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Although the program was designed to accommodate up to 3,000 participants, only a handful have signed up thus far.

The American Trucking Associations and the International Foodservice Distributors Association have praised the introduction of the legislation, which they believe builds upon substantial bipartisan backing for the DRIVE Safe Act in previous Congress sessions, as well as the inclusion of the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program in the infrastructure bill.

The apprenticeship program's low participation rate has been attributed by the ATA and IFDA to extraneous USDOT requirements that were not outlined in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. To address this issue, the DRIVE Safe Integrity Act has been proposed, which aims to enhance the pilot program by prompting the DOT to implement corrective measures that improve participation in the SDAP. Additionally, the legislation mandates the DOT to provide Congress with detailed reports on the SDAP's status and the corrective measures undertaken to improve participation.

According to ATA President and CEO Chris Spear, the development of a robust and thriving trucking workforce is necessary for building a 21st-century supply chain. The DRIVE Safe Integrity Act, designed to facilitate new career pathways into interstate trucking while promoting safety and training standards that exceed those of states, represents a crucial solution for the current trucking workforce and supply chain challenges. This legislation enjoys broad bipartisan Congressional support and provides a timely and essential solution to the challenges facing the industry.

Across 49 states and the District of Columbia, young drivers aged 18, 19, and 20 are permitted to obtain a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) and operate heavy-duty commercial vehicles within state lines. However, pursuant to federal regulations, these same drivers are restricted from operating in interstate commerce.

Through its directive to the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program is set to align with the original intent of Congress and provide a secure pathway for program participants to join the workforce.

This critical measure will ensure that the transportation industry has the requisite talent to meet the increased freight demands of the economy in the years ahead, as articulated by Spear.

Implementation Timeline: When Trucking Companies Can Expect to See Changes

The implementation timeline for the changes in the trucking apprenticeship program has not been set yet.

However, it is expected that the Department of Transportation (DOT) will announce a timeline soon. The DOT is currently in the process of reviewing comments on proposed changes to the apprenticeship program.

Trucking companies can expect to see changes once the new rules are implemented. The updated program aims to increase access to training and help address driver shortages in the industry by providing a pathway for individuals interested in pursuing a career as commercial driver.

It is essential for trucking companies to stay updated on any changes and timelines related to the apprenticeship program so they can plan accordingly and ensure compliance with new regulations. Companies should also consider how these changes may impact their recruiting and hiring strategies moving forward.

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Industry Reaction: Response from Stakeholders on the Proposed Changes

The proposed changes in the trucking apprenticeship program by the Department of Transportation (DOT) have garnered mixed reactions from stakeholders. 

The American Trucking Association (ATA) has expressed support for the DOT's move, stating that it would help address the driver shortage crisis by creating more opportunities for training (from training schools) and employment in the industry.

The ATA also commended the agency for working with industry partners to develop a flexible apprenticeship model that meets their needs. At a minimum level, entry-level drivers' national average count will improve. There will be enforcement actions for the implementation of this of course for this apprenticeship challenge. 

On the other hand, some labor groups have criticized the proposed changes, claiming that they could undermine safety standards and lead to the exploitation of new drivers.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), which represents over 1 million workers in various industries including trucking, has raised concerns about allowing inexperienced drivers to operate heavy-duty vehicles without proper training and supervision. IBT also argued that reducing minimum training requirements could compromise safety on highways. 

Learning about preventable accidents for driver safety is far different from the actual situations. The level of safety might be compromised. 

Overall, it remains to be seen how these proposed changes will affect different aspects of trucking operations and workforce development for this new generation of drivers. While some stakeholders see them as a step forward towards addressing long-standing challenges facing the industry, others are calling for caution and further dialogue to ensure that they do not come at a cost of safety or fair treatment of workers.

Conclusion: Overall impact of DOT's modifications on the Trucking Industry

In conclusion, the Department of Transportation's (DOT) modifications to the trucking industry have had a significant impact on both drivers and companies. A clear driver pilot program should be implemented. 

The apprenticeship program is one such example where changes were made to provide more training opportunities for new drivers. This move has been welcomed by many in the industry as it helps address the driver shortage issue.

Moreover, the DOT's changes in hours-of-service regulations have also impacted the industry. While some argue that these changes could lead to increased safety risks due to longer driving hours, others see it as a necessary step towards addressing productivity concerns within the industry.

Overall, it's clear that DOT's modifications are aimed at improving safety and addressing key issues facing the trucking industry. While there may be some concerns regarding specific changes, it's important to recognize that overall these modifications are intended to benefit both drivers and companies alike.

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1. DOT, DOL Announce Expansion of Trucking Apprenticeships, FMCSA, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/dot-dol-announce-expansion-trucking-apprenticeships-new-truck-driver-boards-and-studies

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