Cummins working to stem truck driver shortage

Cummins Inc. has a vested interest in the health of the truck driving industry, which is why it is involved in initiatives to remedy a growing shortage of semi-trailer drivers nationwide.

A analysis last year by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) said that the shortage of drivers was expected to reach about 48,000 by the end of 2015. If the trend continues, the shortage would grow to nearly 175,000 by 2024. Retirements and industry growth are fueling the need for an influx of drivers, the analysis said.

The Columbus-based diesel engine maker has been in Indianapolis this week for the National Truck Driving Championships, conducted by the ATA, to highlight the need for more drivers and showcase new technology used in the industry.

“Nothing gets delivered around the U.S. and cities without truckers,” said Amy Boerger, vice president of sales for Cummins’ Engine business. “It’s important to us. In order for parts to get into our plants and engines to be shipped away from plants, it’s effectively done with truck driving.”

Trucking moves about 70 percent of all freight tonnage in the U.S., ATA spokesman Sean McNally said.

If the truck driver shortage continues to increase, it’s likely to have a ripple effect that would affect the economy and consumers, Boerger said.

Deliveries of parts to plants would be delayed, the time to ship finished products from plants would take longer and the cost to move freight by trucking would increase, she said.

During the truck driving championships, Cummins has been offering ride-and-drives in downtown Indianapolis in state-of-the-art semi-trailers featuring Cummins’ new X15 engines, which are part of the company’s 2017 product line.

Cummins’ involvement at the truck driving championships is just one example of its ongoing efforts. It’s also one of more than two dozen companies that comprise the Allied Committee for the Trucking Industry (also known as Act 1), which has a mission of enhancing the business environment of the transportation industries, according to the committee’s website. Act 1 and the ATA founded Trucking Moves America Forward, a positive-image campaign to highlight the benefits of truck driving as a career.

“About three years ago we started a concerted effort with ATA to promote (truck) drivers,” Boerger said of Cummins’ efforts.

Attending trade shows, advertising in publications related to trucking and assisting in training fleets that use Cummins engines are additional examples of how the company supports the industry, Boerger said.

One of the other challenges that makes recruiting new drivers difficult is a negative perception of truck driving. The reality, Boerger and McNally said, is that it can be a good, rewarding career — albeit challenging — that allows people to make a good living.

The midpoint salary for national route drivers is $46,000, while it’s $73,000 for private fleet drivers, according to a 2014 driver compensation study by the ATA. Private fleets tend to pay more because they have specific requirements for experience and safety history, McNally said.

Like all jobs, pay depends on one’s experience and who the employer is, but it’s possible for truck drivers to earn more than $100,000 annually, McNally said. And, with a shortage of drivers, trucking employers are paying more to hire drivers because of increased competition for their services, he said.

Basic requirements to be hired as a truck driver include having a commercial driver’s license and to pass entry-level driver training, McNulty said.

One segment the ATA would like to see tapped to help alleviate the shortage of truck drivers is the 18 to 20 age range. Federal law requires that truck drivers must be at least 21 to operate across state lines, McNally said. However, truck drivers in the 18 to 20 age group can run routes within state borders, he said.

The ATA would like to see the age requirement lowered, or a means for truck drivers younger than 21 to be allowed to operate across state lines if they met certain benchmarks, McNally said.

If you go

What: National Truck Driving Championships, a skills competition for drivers

When: Event wraps up today

Where: Indiana Convention Center, 100 S. Capitol Ave., Indianapolis

Schedule of events:

7:22 a.m.: Introduction of state champions

7:45 a.m.: National anthem

7:50 a.m.: Announcement of finalists

8 a.m.: Parade of equipment

9:20 a.m.: Championship finals

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.