Collaboration works to address trucker shortage
Public, private, charitable entities step up to help fix the problem
Two years ago, Susan Buell set out to identify needs for businesses in the Umpqua Valley. Over several months, the Umpqua Training & Employment president met with nearly 30 businesses in all sectors of the economy. She found that nearly all of them had a need for qualified workers, but one industry in particular faced a dire shortage. “There was an acute need in the trucking industry for drivers,” she says. “Really acute.”
National statistics bear that out. In 2018, the already alarming deficit of 50,800 drivers swelled by more than 10,000 from a year earlier, according to a study by the American Trucking Associations. But that’s just the beginning; the U.S. trucker shortage is expected to more than double over the next decade as the industry struggles to replace retiring drivers.
It’s a scenario that keeps Andy Owens up at night. “Nationwide, more than 70% of goods travel by truck, but here in Oregon, that number is closer to 80%,” says Owens, CEO of Glendale’s A&M Transport and a pivotal force behind several recent initiatives to train more drivers. “Eventually the economy is going to take off and go, but by 2023, we are going to be short north of 100,000 drivers nationwide. If a driver picks up a shipment every three days, that’s 33,000 shipments a day that could be potentially affected and not delivered to the customer on time.
“Putting it all into context, all arrows point to that shortage slowing the economy down.”
In Oregon, the situation is bringing industry, education and economic groups together though an innovative collaboration model. With the NextGen Sector Partnerships strategy, business-led groups work with a variety of community partners, such as Umpqua Community College, to solve critical issues. “The sector partnerships are when business people tell us their needs, and we figure out how we can meet them,” Buell says. “It’s a different way of trying to solve a problem.”
“It lets industry drive the conversation from the center of the table,” explains Kyle Stevens, executive director of Southwestern Oregon Workforce Investment Board, which administers state and federal dollars in the region. “It takes all the people like us who have resources around the outside, and allows industry to say, this is what we need, how can you guys help us.”
“Last fiscal year,” Stevens says, “SOWIB, in partnership with South Coast Business Employment Corporation, invested $126,000 in Commercial Driver’s License training in Douglas County. Adding 100 great family-wage jobs to Douglas County benefits the entire community.”
In the Umpqua Valley, identification of the driver shortage led to the establishment of the Umpqua Valley Transportation Sector Partnership. A similar effort, the Rogue Transportation and Logistics Partnership, has formed for Jackson and Josephine counties. Other efforts addressing the driver issue are also springing up around the state, such as Tillamook Bay Community College’s truck driver training program, and upcoming training offered in Prineville through Baker Technical Institute.
Industry partners in the Umpqua Valley Transportation Sector Partnership first identified top needs: putting a mechanism in place to help pay tuition for the non-traditional students it hoped to attract; upgrading the aged fleet used by UCC to train its students; and developing a promotional campaign.
That’s where the partnership comes in. Instead of expecting UCC to take on the tuition issue by itself, for example, the group reached out to all sectors. It collected financial support from private foundations, including The Ford Family Foundation, the county industrial development board, and finally, scholarships from industry itself.
Now, as UCC works to attract non-traditional students — veterans, women and people who need a second chance, for example — it can offer a powerful incentive.
“It’s always about how the community wraps around the problem,” Buell says. After industry leaders identified updated equipment as a priority, the partnership went to the college to find out what it could do to buy new trucks. In 2018, the UCC Foundation decided to raise the money through its annual gala, which brought $60,000 into the coffers.
Owens was then able to leverage his industry connection with Daimler/Freightliner to obtain a “two for one” deal, where UCC purchased one truck with the Gala proceeds and Daimler donated one.
In all, about $464,000 was raised through grants, donations and the gala for the Douglas County project, not counting the donated truck.
“Every community partner stepped up to do something — public, private, two different foundations — all of them working toward fixing the problem,” Buell says.
The results are already apparent. The truck driving project has been funding students for more than a year and a half, with 53 graduating to date. “Our goal at UT&E was to serve 70 people, and we are over 100,” Buell says.
UCC has been offering truck driver training for more than 20 years. The extra funding is welcomed. “We trained 73 truck drivers last year and will probably exceed 80 this academic year,” says Robin VanWinkle, the college’s director of Community & Workforce Training. “Students have multiple funding options, including self pays, veteran benefits, SOWIB funding via South Coast Business, vocational rehabilitation and WorkSource Oregon funds. Many of these funding entities work with each other to cover as many students as possible.”
After seeing his work on the partnership pay off in the Umpqua Valley, Owens, whose business in Glendale straddles the county line, says it was time to make it work in the Rogue Valley region. The new Rogue Transportation & Logistics Partnership has been successfully launched. “We’ve already pitched the tuition idea to the economic development board and things are moving along,” he says. “It’s really encouraging to see what is going on all over the region.”
Tuition assistance available for UCC Truck Driving School
The Umpqua Community College Professional Truck Driver four-week certification program covers log books, trip planning, and hours of service. Classwork is followed by behind-the-wheel driver training. Tuition assistance is available. For more information: www.umpqua.edu/commercial-truck-driving, or call (541) 440-4668.