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Viewpoint: Trucking’s welcome message to teens

FMCSA’s apprenticeship pilot program is opportunity for the industry to develop the drivers of tomorrow

For years, the industry has asked for the ability to expand its driver workforce. FMCSA’s apprenticeship program is that opportunity, and now is time to jump on this opportunity. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

After Congress included a key driver training provision in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has now moved forward with making good on this directive. On Jan. 14, FMCSA published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the establishment of the “Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program,” which will allow 18-20-year-olds the ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in interstate commerce.

The apprenticeship pilot program has broad support from the trucking industry and will serve as a meaningful step toward opening up the long-haul, over-the-road segment to a new demographic. The need for new drivers is clear – currently, the driver shortage is estimated to be 80,000 and will only grow over time. While bringing in a younger demographic is clearly not the sole solution to this problem, it will help to guarantee a steady pipeline of new entrants moving forward. Ensuring that high school students can see the driving profession as a meaningful long-term career for themselves and getting them excited about the role early will help them to seek it out after graduation.

The apprenticeship pilot program will allow 18-20-year-olds who have already obtained their commercial driver’s license to enter a narrowly tailored apprenticeship program which will provide them with additional training on how to safely operate a CMV. Drivers will need to complete both a 120-hour and 280-hour probationary period during which they will only drive vehicles with an active braking collision mitigation system and a governed speed of 65 miles per hour at the pedal and under adaptive cruise control, among other technologies. They will be accompanied during their probationary periods by older, more experienced drivers, who must themselves be highly qualified for the role.

For carriers wishing to participate, they must complete an application and submit monthly data on the apprentice’s driver activity, safety outcomes, etc. They must also notify FMCSA of fatal crashes, alcohol-related citations, drug/alcohol test failures, and other apprentice-related information. Beyond FMCSA’s requirements, carriers will be required to register an apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor through a separate process.

Once implemented, FMCSA will publish an announcement that applications are being accepted for participation in the pilot program. The agency’s website will also provide links to the application forms and other helpful information for motor carriers and drivers interested in participating. TCA will keep our members informed of the process and we encourage any carrier interested in hiring an 18-20-year-old driver to learn more about how they can get involved.

For years, the industry asked for the ability to include these drivers in interstate commerce and now is time to jump on this opportunity. We look forward to the program’s implementation and the resulting possibilities that will be granted to this younger demographic moving forward.