The U.S. trucking industry not only provides a path to a rewarding career, it also offers an incredibly accessible means for motivated veterans to become successful entrepreneurs. The industry is unique, in that it is primarily dependent upon small, local trucking businesses. There are 1.2 million motor carriers that have been registered in the U.S. of which, 1.1 million report having fewer than ten trucks. For a commercial driver, it is relatively easy to transition from being a company employee to becoming an owner operator of their own truck. Opportunities beyond that include becoming a fleet owner of several trucks and a supervisor of other drivers, and then ultimately becoming a motor carrier with warehouses and distribution centers. The best example of this is JB Hunt. JB started as a truck driver and then served his country in the U.S. Army. Following his military service, JB purchased a fleet of five trucks and grew his operation into the largest U.S. trucking company in America at over $5 billion in revenue.
Despite the opportunity, the industry currently suffers from a shortage of class A commercial drivers. Recent estimates peg the driver shortage at 235,000. Compounding the driver shortage is an aging workforce, with the average age of a commercial driver being 55 years old. Coupled with industry demand growth, it is estimated that America will need on average 96,178 new commercial drivers to enter the job market annually over the next decade. Commercial driving has been identified as a critical occupation to inform and reduce credentialing barriers for our veterans and transitioning service men and women.
Some trucking industry employers have identified military veterans as a viable candidate pool for new commercial drivers. YRC Freight, for example, has recently announced its commitment to hire more than 7,000 veterans, mostly commercial class A drivers, in the next five years. Maverick Transportation has recently opened a $4 million driver training center and is offering veterans new to driving enhanced training with approved veteran benefits subsidies. Most employers are focused upon hiring the transitioning military class A drivers.
This is the result of a successful policy change by DOT and all states allowing for an FMCSA and State Military Skills Waiver. The skills waiver allows for two years of commercial driving experience which satisfies employer liability insurance hurdles and state minimum driving requirements. This experience credit enables a transitioning veteran to earn starting salaries at or above $60,000 per year, which is $15,000 to $20,000 higher than starting a commercial class A driving job without credited experience. A challenge we have found is that less than four percent of military class A vehicle drivers we have interviewed were aware of the skills waiver. A second challenge we have discovered is there is inconsistent tracking of actual military driving experience either in miles driven or hours of operation. We believe this lack of awareness and documentation of experience of 60,500 military service men and women whose primary occupation is truck driver are a significant barriers to commercial class A driving jobs.
An additional deterrent to transitioning service men and women the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) requirement for a Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC). The TWIC card is a requirement for intermodal, seaport, airport, rail yard and military installation access by a commercial driver. The waiting time for veterans to obtain their TWIC card—often several weeks—is an additional deterrent to many transitioning military veterans. Still, intermodal driving is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. trucking and represents, in many ways, the new American trucking job, replacing traditional long-haul routes with short, point-topoint pick-ups and deliveries. Another advantage of intermodal jobs is that they are near major population centers with large commercial airports, seaports and rail yards. As of May 2014, 3 million people have enrolled in the TWIC program, with 2 million active cardholders. Since many military service members are issued security clearances, we believe these clearances should be transferable to or expedite, a civilian TWIC card prior to transitioning out of the military.
Many large trucking companies are addressing the driver shortage by targeting more new student drivers. To accommodate the demand for new student commercial drivers, employers like Knight Transportation created their own student driving programs. Targeting transitioning military, Knight has also qualified their program for veteran benefits. In addition to some large trucking employers with their own Commercial Drivers License (CDL) schools, veterans have access to over 500 private and publicly funded CDL schools across the country. The basic training received is similar, with some differences on a state level. Differences include the amount of classroom time (typically between 140 and 160 hours), and number of driver instructors per student (typically between four and six). The actual time to achieve a license is between five weeks for full time programs and several months for part-time programs. The cost of training for a veteran can vary, typically between $4,000 and $7,000, with some, but not all, driver training schools accepting veteran benefits. Once a veteran receives their CDL, they typically enter a driver“road finishing” program where they are teamed with a driver instructor at their place of employment for additional instruction typically ranging for 275 hours to 400 hours.
The demand for veterans for future employment in the trucking industry has increased significantly. Several recent policy changes have been made to help remove the road blocks for veterans entering a commercial driving career. These include allowance for internships and on-base commercial driving schools like the Troops Into Transportation program established at Fort Benning, GA. Troops Into Transportation has developed an innovative “JobFirst” Program where an employer agrees to interview and hire the veteran before having them commit to CDL training. Troops Into Transportation has partnered with industry leading employers like Con-way Truckload and TMC Transportation to provide the job guarantees for veterans going through this program.
Still, these recent actions aimed to improve the veteran employment opportunities for commercial class A drivers are insufficient to attract the number of veterans the industry needs. FASTPORT and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes Program have recognized the need to provide further industry education through a single, consolidated database of driving jobs that is easy for veterans to access, search, and review. In partnership, FASTPORT and Hiring Our Heroes have created the Trucking Industry Mentoring Track to educate, motivate, inspire and hire 50,000 veterans, transitioning service men and women and spouses into great careers with great employers in the trucking industry. FASTPORT, working with leading employers in the U.S. trucking industry like USF Holland, Transport America, and Ryder, and large industrial employers like Airgas and Clean Harbors, have closed a significant gap in education and awareness by providing educational videos and industry expert mentors.
Veterans and transitioning service men and women can contact a mentor by going to the mentor landing page and selecting any one of 36 industry experts provided by 12 employers. The mentors will answer questions and provide information about career opportunities and open positions. Mentors can discuss the differences between OTR, intermodal, regional, dedicated and local driving routes. They can discuss the different physical requirements for driving a flatbed, dry van, refrigerated boxcar and tankers. Most importantly, the mentors can educate the veteran about the different career paths available in the industry beyond the commercial driver career. These career paths include transitioning into driver training, driver recruiting, safety training and then leadership roles. Career paths also lead into front line supervision of a freight terminal or warehouse, dispatch office, and even sales positions. The trucking industry has an abundance of senior executives that serve as great role models for entering commercial drivers, having started their career driving a truck, and now are industry leaders heading companies or functional areas of companies.
Veterans can learn about the how their military experience translates into a successful career in the trucking industry and about the various opportunities by watching the videos on the Learn More landing page. They can also easily search any one of over 8,000 open positions in the trucking industry being offered on the Jobs landing page. This individual access to mentors, industry information and jobs in a single, easy to use website enables more veterans to learn about and seek a great commercial driving career with great employers in the trucking industry.
DOL/BLS Economic News Release; Employment Situation Of Veterans Summary, March 20, 2014, USDL 14-0434
Employment Projections program, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Motor Carrier Management Information System Census File
The JB Hunt Story
FTR Transportation Intelligence economic forecast
Labor Force Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
American Trucking Association Chief Economist estimate
U.S. Department of Defense Credentialing and Licensing Task Force, Military Affairs Task Force, National Conference of State Legislatures, April 8, 2013
U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Program To Assist Veterans To Acquire Commercial Driver’s Licenses Report To Congress, November 2013
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Safety Administration, Transportation Workers Identification Credential, Frequently Asked Questions U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Safety Administration
Owner Operator Independent Driver Association Research Reports
Owner Operator Independent Driver Association Research Reports, Industry Facts