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Industry Reactions to the New Apprenticeship Pilot Program
Mariah Barr
7 mins read

Earning your commercial driver’s license is both challenging and rewarding. The time spent on the road only adds to the driver’s experience and there is a sense of pride that accompanies doing the job well, as with nearly any career.  

Considering almost every good purchased in the U.S. is placed on a truck at some point, it’s no surprise that the American Trucking Associations (ATA) found that 72.5% of all freight was transported by the trucking industry in 2019. But the recent driver shortage has strained many motor carriers, causing truckers to bear the brunt of this hefty workload.  

A Solution to the Ongoing Shortage 

In an effort to alleviate the demand placed on drivers and motor carriers alike, the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program (SDAP) was put in place by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on January 14th, 2022.  

The program was included as a part of the Developing Responsible Individuals for a Vibrant Economy Act (DRIVE Safe Act) as well as the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) that was signed into law in November 2021. The BIL was established to “address these trucking workforce challenges and begin building a next-generation trucking workforce.” 

With the goal of helping trucking companies hire and train new drivers and improve retention, the SDAP allows CDL holders ages 18-20 to drive commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) across state lines everywhere in the U.S. except Hawaii.

This is a historical event happening before our very eyes; federal law has banned CDL holders under the age of 21 from interstate CMV travel since 1938, prior to the completion of the interstate highway system.  

The SDAP is projected to last up to three years and no more than 3,000 apprentices will be permitted to participate at once. The addition of such a substantial number of drivers will undoubtedly aid motor carriers across the country.  

Potential Benefits & Positive Reactions to the Program 

The ATA, which has promoted the expansion of interstate hauling authority drivers under the age of 21, said the program “will enhance transportation safety, provide a number of young Americans with the launching pad to a rewarding career in the trucking industry, and bolster a workforce that has been essential in responding to the COVID pandemic.” 

Hitting on all the main advantages of the program, the ATA emphasizes an important point: preparing the next generation of truckers starts now. The sooner young truckers learn the ropes and become safe, efficient drivers, the better off the trucking industry (and the American economy) will be in the long run. This will also help ensure new drivers are ready to follow compliance regulations and hopefully reduce the number of unsafe drivers on the road. 

The program will provide some relief to carriers struggling with hiring and keeping drivers, as well. With the increased demand, many companies are offering driver incentives that are difficult to compete with.  

Demand is Up! We’ll Help You Get Drivers on the Road Faster  

The Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA) stated that although the SDAP is “a step in the right direction,” it should be a permanent fixture in the world of trucking. “We need sustained outreach and training programs to fortify our supply chain and provide steady and good-paying job opportunities for young people,” CVTA added. 

Raising Concerns Over DOL Registrations 

Even though the ATA backed the concept of under-21 CMV operations, they also spoke to their concerns about the DOT requiring carriers to create a “registered apprenticeship” with the Department of Labor, which can be a cumbersome process. 

“We would suggest DOT may need to explain why the substantial added burden of registering with DOL – for those who have not previously been part of the registered apprenticeship program – is necessary as a condition precedent and what data supports that requirement,” said the ATA.   

Having a registered apprenticeship with the DOL requires carriers to pay apprentices while on the job, provide both on-the-job and classroom training, offer one-on-one support to apprentices by creating an internal mentorship program, and other requirements. 

The Struggle to Meet Specific Apprenticeship Demands 

According to the DRIVE Safe Act, any apprentice “must complete two probationary periods that total 400 hours of on-duty time, of which at least 240 hours must be driving time in a commercial motor vehicle. Additionally, the apprentice must be accompanied in the cab of the commercial motor vehicle by an experienced driver.” 

All of this could possibly become counterproductive to the mission of the SDAP, by taking up the increasingly tight schedules of small-to-medium-sized motor carriers who would like to participate, but simply do not have the bandwidth to fulfill the obligations.  

Required Safety Measures May Reduce Carrier Eligibility 

In addition to the hands-on demands that go along with participating in the program, all apprentices must use CMVs with certain safety features, including automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems and forward-facing video capturing cameras.

While these technologies would presumably reduce some of the risks associated with younger drivers operating CMVs, some carriers may not have trucks equipped with them. This means they could not take part in the program unless they invested in newer equipment – something many companies may not be able to do. 

ATA said it perfectly: “Every additional burden placed on motor carriers may reduce the number participating.” The idea behind the SDAP is great, but you should expect to face a few obstacles if you’re interested in taking on any apprentices in the near future. 

Foley can help if you’re having trouble hiring qualified drivers as well. Our completely digital application is a user-friendly and cost-effective option for motor carriers of all sizes. To learn more about how we can make the hiring process a breeze, contact us! 

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