Texas trucking industries encourage more drivers as White House touts truck driving program

PASADENA, Texas (KTRK) -- As the White House touts its truck driving program, those in the industry in Texas said more needs to be done to help keep shelves filled, and prices down.

THE PUSH TO GET MORE TRUCK DRIVERS

Handling a big rig might seem challenging, but for some students they see an opportunity.

"You don't have to worry about job security, honesty," San Jacinto College, student, Steven Morris said. "It's a lot of fun."

Steven Morris is a San Jacinto College student. In a few weeks, he'll earn a commercial driver's license, and a job that pays on average $55,000 in Texas.

"We help keep America rolling every day," Morris said. "That's how you get your food. Your toiletries. Anything you need."

Morris isn't the only one who's discovered this passion. San Jacinto's truck classes are booked solid.

"I'm thinking we're booked through September right now," San Jacinto College, instructor, John Stephens explained.

COVID-19 relief bills have made the course free. There's also a new apprenticeship program spurred by the White House. Companies can hire drivers as young as 18.

"This is a company-by-company basis," Texas Trucking Association, president, John Esparza said. "At the end of the day, you have an insurance policy and if it will allow you to bring in that 18 to 21 year old age group."

WHITE HOUSE TOUTS RECORD NUMBER OF NEW TRUCK DRIVER HIRES, BUT INDUSTRY LEADERS SAID MORE DRIVERS ARE NEEDED

On Monday, President Joe Biden highlighted the push to get more truck drivers. The White House said after launching its program in December 2021, a new record of new truck drivers were brought on board.

In 2021, the White House said the number of new commercial driver's licenses has doubled, with over 876,000 CDLs distributed. Esparza though said people are getting CDLs, but it may be as a backup plan, and it doesn't mean they're driving trucks.

"Our trucking companies out there are not able to fill the equipment that they have because of the lack of truck drivers," Esparza explained. "That gap continues to grow, and it has consistently."

In Texas, there are more than 76,000 truck driving companies. While numbers are rising, the American Trucking Association said the number of drivers declined by nearly 7% in 2020.

LACK OF TRUCK DRIVERS COULD CONTINUE TO MAKE SUPPLY CHAIN ISSUES WORSE, CAUSING BARE STORE SHELVES AND HIGHER PRICES

The American Trucking Associations said more than 70% of the nation's freight is moved by trucks. If there aren't enough drivers, it could become harder to find goods.

"When they have 15% of their equipment lined up against the fence because they can't drivers," Esparza said. "Our trucking companies aren't able to fill the equipment that they have."

It may not just impact products you want to buy in stores. Industry experts said not enough drivers could impact online purchases too.

"We live in a society where we log on, click buy, and it's here this afternoon in some cases," Esparza explained. "Those are the kinds of disruptions that will slow us down."

To give you an idea of the shortage, San Jacinto instructors say they're seeing a new trend.

"We have quite a bit of new, smaller companies that have never hired students before that are starting to come in here and hire students for training," Stephens explained. "That's how bad they need students."

If you are interested in a truck program or apprenticeship, call the ABC 13 Hotline at 713-243-6663.

For updates on this story, follow Nick Natario on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.