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A possible solution to the truck driver shortage? Getting younger drivers behind the wheel

Kordula gives Sen. Baldwin a run down on how to drive a semi truck.
Katie Thoresen
Kordula gives Sen. Baldwin a run down on how to drive a semi truck.

As holiday packages crisscross the country, truck drivers and delivery people have an especially critical job this time of year. But they’re in short supply.

The American Trucking Association has long claimed a truck driver shortage. Last year, that shortage reached an all-time high of 80,000 drivers, with concerns it could double by 2030.

As a result, places like Karl’s Transport in Antigo are exploring avenues to attract more drivers.

One option is to recruit younger people.

That’s recently been made possible through the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program, a component of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Karl’s Transport is one of just 15 carriers nationwide participating in pilot program, which allows it to train drivers as young as 18 years old.

“It opens the door for us to expose the younger generation,” says Tim Kordula, a commercial driving instructor with Karl’s Transport, “to get into the high schools and give them an opportunity to get into a very lucrative and life-long career at a young age.”

Until this program was created, people younger than 21 could earn a commercial driver’s license, but they could not legally drive across state lines. Since much of Karl’s Transport’s work takes place between states, it was impractical to train younger people.

Because that’s no longer the case, Karl’s Transport can recruit drivers directly from high school.

“We’re trying to partner with some schools now, as we speak, to possibly make CDL training an elective the second semester of senior year,” Kordula says. “So far, we’ve got a couple of schools that are very, very interested within this area.”

Karl’s Transport already has its first apprentice on the road. He’s the youngest interstate truck driver in the country.

Kordula hopes he’s not the last.

“We’re always looking to fill trucks here at Karl’s,” he says, “and we’ve had a ton of interest. We anticipate even more applicants when the school year ends in May.”

Kordula is hopeful that students who graduate the apprenticeship program continue working with Karl’s Transport or move on to other careers in the industry.

If they do, the program could spell relief for an industry racked by a constant labor shortage.

If they don’t, it could point to another problem in the trucking industry: the struggle to retain workers.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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