State senators to take on commercial trucker shortage |
ATLANTA – The Georgia Senate is about to tackle a persistent shortage of workers in one of the state’s key industries: commercial trucking.
A Senate study committee formed to find solutions to an inadequate supply of truck drivers will hold its first meeting this coming Wednesday.
“It’s been an issue for awhile,” said Seth Millican, executive director of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, an affiliate of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. “The pandemic and supply chain crunch we saw directed a lot of attention to it.”
The shortage is being felt particularly in long-haul trucking. Millican said many drivers have been lured away from the long-haul segment of the industry by the growth in e-commerce that accompanied the pandemic and has continued as Georgians become accustomed to the convenience.
“People who had never been online shopping became one during the pandemic,” Millican said.
“A lot of drivers are working for Amazon,” added state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, who will chair the study committee. “They still drive a truck, but they can go home at night.”
Like many other industries, commercial trucking is suffering from an aging workforce.
Ray Perren, the Technical College System of Georgia’s (TCSG) deputy commissioner for technical education, said more than half of the commercial trucking workforce is within five years of retirement.
The technical college system has been working for the past decade to train young Georgians to replace those retiring truckers. An initiative then-Gov. Nathan Deal launched in 2013 to offer full tuition coverage through the HOPE Grant program for technical college students pursuing certain high-demand careers includes commercial truck driving.
Enrollment in the TCSG’s commercial trucking program increased by 24% during the last school year to more than 2,600 students, Perren said.
“We took a dip during the pandemic, but it’s coming back strong,” he said.
The technical college system recently was awarded an $8.3 million state grant to expand the program, which already is offered at 19 of the system’s 22 technical colleges. West Georgia Technical College in LaGrange has just opened a new trucking range, and ranges are being built at technical colleges in Columbus and Augusta, Perren said.
Still, Perren said there are challenges to training enough students to meet the growing need for truck drivers. He said one obstacle is Georgians’ attitudes toward a technical college education.
“There’s so much emphasis on getting a four-year degree,” he said.
Perren said parents and students don’t realize there’s good money to be made in commercial truck driving. Graduates of the technical college system’s five-week commercial trucking program earn starting salaries of at least $42,000 a year, he said.
“That’s not a bad salary for a five-week training program,” he said. “There’s a lot of earning potential in this career.”
Perren said another obstacle to churning out more commercial truck drivers is that – unlike other TCSG high-demand career programs – high school students can’t earn dual enrollment credits because Georgians must be 18 to get a learner’s permit to drive commercial trucks.
Millican said the General Assembly could help address the shortage of truckers through tort reform, a cause the Georgia Chamber has embraced for years.
“In Georgia, it’s often exorbitantly expensive or impossible to insure a driver with less than two years of experience,” he said.
Millican said other steps lawmakers could take to make trucking a more attractive career choice would be to support initiatives aimed at reducing chronic traffic congestion – particularly in the Atlanta region – and identifying and securing more parking options for big rigs.
Anavitarte said the committee likely will hold two or three meetings around the state before a final meeting in Atlanta in November to finalize recommendations for the full Senate to consider during the 2024 legislative session.