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Idaho trucking schools recruit teenagers amid national truck driver shortage

A new federal pilot program will allow truck drivers as young as 18-year-old to get the training and CDL to drive across state lines.

BOISE, Idaho — A truck driver shortage continues to impact the U.S. The Idaho Trucking Association reports 80,000 open positions around the country, while the Gem State is in need of 5,000 drivers.

"It's getting worse. It's definitely getting worse," Harry Packwood, the owner of Idaho CDL Training, a trucking school in the Treasure Valley that specializes in helping companies find drivers and put people in the workforce, told KTVB.

Packwood said things like safety over COVID-19 and more drivers reaching retirement age have become a big cause of the shortage. It has also been a challenge for companies to hire new drivers because different trade industries have become more competitive.

"There's hope out there there's interest," Packwood said. "I don't think the shortage is going to slow down, I just think it's going to keep compounding unless we address it with some more outside-the-box thinking."

For a while, Packwood and others in the trucking industry have had conversations on lowering the age of drivers that can cross state lines could be a solution to recruiting. Currently, truckers must be at least 21.

"There are folks out there who are like, 'No. No one should drive under that age.' I disagree with that," Packwood said. "I think that we should allow them with proper training."

That conversation has become a reality because of a new federal pilot program that will allow drivers as young as 18 to do just that.

"I mean colleges go and recruit young people every year. I mean when I was in high school, they showed and talked to you about different colleges trying to get you to come to their college," Packwood said. 

He added there are many skilled drivers that he and trucking companies lose each year because teenagers out of high school join careers or trade schools that do not require the age to be at least 21.

"There are young people out there that want to be in this industry and want to drive," Packwood said.

The Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot requires 400 hours of training with behind-the-wheel that requires an experienced driver seated by. Trucks they drive must have a front-facing camera, automatic transmission, electronic braking and be governed at a speed of 65 miles per hour.

The apprenticeship will run for three years. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will collect data throughout and turn it into Congress. At the end of the three years, they will analyze and determine if teenagers are as safe of drivers as people 21 and older.

"This isn't a bad thing, just take away the thought of 'Oh, they're 21 and they can't handle it.' Some jobs aren't for everybody, but there are plenty of young people that grow up on farms and have trade-oriented mindsets that this would be a great job for them," Packwood said.

Packwood believes this could also fix some of the supply shortages. According to the Idaho Trucking Association, more than 70% of all goods are shipped by truck.

"Adding more people to the market obviously puts more trucks out there which lessens some of these sitting loads which could level out the sitting prices for the freight market as well," Packwood said.

Aside from younger drivers, Packwood said another way to help with driver shortages would be to recruit more women into these jobs. He believes that alone could help fill a significant number of vacant positions.

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