‘Living the American dream’: Truckers honored in Tampa as industry seeks more drivers
TAMPA, Fla. - From labor shortages to higher fuel costs to supply chain issues, truck drivers have been in the thick of it. It's a job that impacts nearly all of us.
Some of the country's most experienced truckers were in Tampa on Friday to be honored among the best and safest on the road. It was part of the 2022 International Foodservice Distributors Association Distribution Solutions Conference.
"We all had to pull together," said truck driver Barry Thomas, who lives near Orlando. "It wasn't just the drivers, it was managers, it was everybody."
More than 3.6 million professional truck drivers in the U.S. quite literally drive the economy, hauling more than 10 billion tons of cargo each year.
"70% of freight travels via trucks," said Mark Allen, president & CEO of International Foodservice Distributors Association. "We can't run this country without trucks."
The industry was short nearly 61,000 drivers the year before the pandemic, the American Trucking Associations reported. That number grew to 80,000 last year.
"It was really tough because you're still shipping out the same amount of stuff. You've got fewer drivers to do it," said David Chirio, a truck driver from Michigan.
More than 3.6 million professional truck drivers in the U.S. haul more than 10 billion tons of cargo each year.
"Labor has been a huge problem," Allen said. "We had about 15% open rates in driver positions and warehouse positions which are critical to the business."
READ: Winter Haven truck driving school works to recruit more women as driver shortage continues
Labor is one of the factors fueling the rise in food prices, up more than 11% since last year. Getting people back into the workforce will be key.
"We've got to do a better job as an industry looking at automation, looking at technology, looking for things that we can marry up with existing labor to accomplish the same amount of work or a greater amount of work as we're trying to feed more people in the future," Allen stated.
Governor Ron DeSantis awarded more than $8 million dollars to five state colleges to expand the capacity of Commercial Driver's License training programs by at least 1,200 students per year.
Governor Ron DeSantis is emphasizing trucking and transportation. This week, he awarded more than $8 million to five state colleges to expand the capacity of Commercial Driver's License training programs by at least 1,200 students per year.
READ: Faced with shortage, trucking companies offer scholarships for new drivers
Next Generation Trucking, which offers simulator training, allowed people at the conference expo to take a shot at driving a virtual big rig. They hope to partner with Florida high schools to get students started even sooner.
Next Generation Trucking, which offers simulator training, allowed people at the conference expo to take a shot at driving a virtual big rig.
Chirio and Thomas were inducted Friday into the Truck Driver Hall of Fame for stellar service and safety records.
"75,000 miles short of three million without an accident," Chirio said.
Despite any bumps in the road, their passion and drive have yet to slow down.
"It's a great honor," Thomas said. "It's something I'm very humbled about. It provides a good family life. You know, I'm living the American dream."