SAN DIEGO — U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg views growing the ranks of women drivers in trucking as an immediate imperative for the industry and the nation as a whole, he said Tuesday at the American Trucking Associations 2022 Management Conference & Exhibition.
Buttigieg called it “mathematical madness” to leave about half of the potential workforce “underappreciated as a resource at this very moment when there’s so much hand-wringing over the gap between how many truck drivers we have and how many truck drivers we need.”
Motor carriers ranked the driver shortage and driver retention as their top concerns for the third straight year in an annual American Transportation Research Institute report released Saturday. Women make up just 8% of drivers, compared to 47% of the overall U.S. workforce, according to ATA data.
“Shame on us if we allow it to continue to be the case that we’re leaving talent on the table because driving is not considered safe, or considered welcoming, or any of the other barriers,” Buttigieg told trucking leaders at the San Diego Convention Center.
Wearing an “I LOVE TRUCKING” button during remarks and a Q&A session on the final day of the conference, Buttigieg asked for the industry’s assistance in addressing recruitment and a wide array of other challenges. The country’s top transportation official also outlined federal efforts to help.
“I’m here today with a purpose ... to express our administration’s understanding that trucking is absolutely vital to the supply chains that are the backbone of the American economy,” he said.
Nearly a year since the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the government is poised to infuse the most money into U.S. roads and bridges since the interstate highway system was built, “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen this industry,” Buttigieg boasted.
“I actually think this is going to be the best period for getting these dollars out efficiently, because we spent the first year just building a lot of programs,” he said.
To boost overall recruitment, Buttigieg invited more fleets to join the Biden Administration’s Trucking Action Plan, which has doubled the number of registered apprenticeships since the program’s launch. He urged the industry to work creatively to integrate emerging technologies into their operations to cut emissions and improve safety.
The secretary also touted the department’s creation of a Women of Trucking Advisory Board to gather feedback on ways to recruit more women and make the industry safer.
Creating more truck parking is a key aspect of improving safety, Buttigieg said. He noted plans underway to expand parking availability, including $40 million in grants announced earlier this month for hundreds of spaces in Tennessee and Florida, as well as tech to help drivers find open spaces.
"I'm under no illusions that 120 [Florida parking] spaces itself is the solution," Buttigieg said. "We're investing in specific places where we think we can really showcase good work, and using that as an invitation for the states that are getting tens of millions in these formula dollars."
The secretary prefaced his remarks with stories of inspiring interactions with military veteran drivers in Pennsylvania, who said the career is an extension of their public service, and other truckers delivering relief to Floridians after Hurricane Ian.
The challenges facing trucking and the nation will require significant investment and collaboration, Buttigieg said. But he struck an optimistic tone about the industry’s ability to help steer its fleets through.
"My hope is that we will be looking back one day at the 2020s as a period when trucking modernized its future while staying true to its finest traditions," Buttigieg said.