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New program could help trucker shortage in Arkansas

Companies in Arkansas and across the country will train 3,000 young drivers through a new pilot program later in the year.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The state's desperate need for truck drivers is something that we've talked about several times throughout the pandemic.

Arkansas is feeling the impact of it as well, as the American Trucking Associations recently estimated that the country is missing more than 80,000 drivers. 

There could be some solutions soon though, as a new federal program may get more people behind the wheel.

They're responsible for getting our favorite foods onto grocery store shelves and essential gas into our cars, but according to Shannon Newton, that seat is getting harder to fill as the pandemic goes on.

"Our members would say that they're also struggling to find qualified candidates who are interested in filling the positions, and still experiencing increased demand for the service," she said.

Newton is the Arkansas Trucking Association President. 

She said the need has only grown more. 

Back in May of 2021, the state was down about 2,400 drivers. Now, Newton said we're short 3,000.

"There are increasing opportunities to go to work in competing industries and then also, just a lot of people leaving the workforce in general," she said.

These issues aren't necessarily new for trucking companies though, according to Newton.

"Addressing the pipeline of talent, if you will, has been a priority for the industry for quite some time," she said.

Newton said incentives and sign-on bonuses help in the short-term, but there's been no long-term solution until now.

"This program of allowing 18-year-olds to enter into the industry is something that we have fought for, for a very long time," she said.

Companies in Arkansas and across the country will train 3,000 young drivers through a new pilot program later in the year.

Before this new pilot program, Newton said companies had to follow a federal law which prohibited 18-year-olds from participating in interstate commerce until they are 21.

"It's really been a hurdle that's been very difficult for the industry and we were consistently having to attract talent from another industry, or after individuals have already tried some other career," she said.

For Newton, the new pilot program is a win and it's one step closer to allowing young drivers to get behind the wheel and across state lines.

"Hopefully that will lead to our ultimate goal of allowing them to participate in the industry," she said.

An 18-year-old can still get a CDL in their own state, the pilot program doesn't change that at all according to Newton. 

She said the program will just allow younger drivers to drive outside of their home state and have no restrictions on what they can deliver.