Strong and Getting Stronger: Veterans and the Trucking Industry

There’s a common-sense connection between U.S. military veterans and the commercial trucking industry, and as we celebrate this Veterans Day, it appears that a mutually beneficial relationship is poised to grow at an exponential rate in the years to come. 

Efforts on numerous fronts are working to connect more veterans with a truck driving career, addressing both the need for high-paying, family-friendly jobs and the expected driver shortfall looming in the upcoming decade (there’s an expected shortfall of 160,000 truck drivers by the year 2030).

While the future for veterans entering the truck driving career path looks bright, a strong core of veterans already helps form the backbone of the existing workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 10% of truck drivers are veterans. However, looking at the veteran population itself, these statistics also show that 1 out of 4 veterans is a truck driver, meaning the profession represents a significant portion of post-military career paths. Organizations like Veterans in Trucking are working to build that community as the number of veterans behind the wheel grows.

Additionally, studies have shown that veterans working as CDL drivers deliver top performance metrics. For example, veterans had 42% fewer accidents than non-veteran drivers, achieved 98% more miles driven, had 59% fewer voluntary terminations, and had 68% fewer involuntary terminations. The fit between military training and the job requirements of a commercial driver continue to be proven with success rates like these.

A Win-Win Relationship

After separating from service, some veterans experience challenges in finding a new and fulfilling career path. Many have families and are seeking a reliable job with attractive pay and benefits, established structure and autonomy, and a good work-life balance. The trucking industry, especially in the past few years, has begun to check many of these boxes, particularly in the area of salaries, as driver wages experienced an impressive 15.5% year-over-year growth in 2022.

Several years ago, leaders in the trucking industry began to recognize the approaching workforce shortage which was exacerbated by the pandemic. Not only were many routes put on hold, training schools and recruitment efforts were effectively closed down for a significant amount of time. Simultaneously, a large portion of older drivers began considering retirement, and today, driver retirement represents 54% of the driver shortage.

At the same time, leaders in Washington, D.C., concerned about the growing supply chain issues, began reaching out to fleets and other industry experts to see what could be done to alleviate some of the problems. Soon, several initiatives were created to address three issues at once – veteran unemployment, driver shortages, and supply chain issues – by strengthening the connection between veterans and the trucking industry.

The majority of these programs focused on reducing the time it takes for a veteran to get trained and certified as a CDL driver. This could mean prepping them before the official end of service, offering financial support for training as a civilian, or connecting the VA with veteran-focused CDL training courses. Since many companies prioritize hiring veterans, it became mutually beneficial to also support specialized fleet apprentice programs and other recruitment efforts.

Task Force Movement

A particularly interesting initiative evolved from the White House’s “Task Force Movement” project which was established to connect the military community with jobs in the trucking sector and cybersecurity industry. The commercial trucking vein of the program – Task Force Movement: Life Cycle Pathways for Veterans and Military Intro Trucking has to date awarded more than 500 scholarships for veterans and military spouses to obtain CDL licenses, with more than 130 employers participating in the program’s apprenticeship program.

Additionally, the U.S. government compiled an extensive list of federal resources for transitioning servicemembers and veterans seeking careers in the trucking industry. This includes programs and resources provided by the Departments of Labor, Transportation, Defense, VA, and the Small Business Administration. 

For example, the Military Skills Waiver Test allows drivers with specific MOS experience operating heavy military equipment to obtain a CDL without taking the formal skills test. Several scholarships, like the Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) Operator Safety Training Grant, provide funding for enhanced operator training, with priority for current and former Armed Forces members. The list of helpful resources is ready and waiting for veterans and their family members looking to get started in the industry.

In the Works: Making It Easier to Use the G.I. Bill

Additionally, efforts are currently underway via House Bill H.R.2830 – Veteran Improvement Commercial Driver License Act of 2023 to cut red tape and expand veterans’ access to timely and quality CDL training, specifically when it comes to using G.I. Bill benefits. This legislation would exempt new branches of established commercial driver-training facilities from having to wait the required two years before accepting GI Bill benefits, as long as their primary training facility is already approved by VA and state agencies. This small change would open up hundreds of new locations for CDL training to veterans wanting to use their G.I. Bill to pay for a CDL.

Technology that Supports Drivers

The newer generation of CDL drivers – veterans included – is more tech savvy and looking to achieve a better work-life balance, according to recent reports. Many veterans have had extensive experience working with data and high-tech mobile devices, making them the good candidates to benefit from telematics tools and apps that make commercial truck drivers' jobs safer and more efficient

Some leading fleets like Kenworth are taking it a step further by partnering with veteran-focused organizations like Transition Trucking, the U.S Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Hiring Our Heroes Program (HOH), and FASTPORT to annually award a fully-loaded, high-tech Kenworth T680 Next Generation truck to a deserving veteran who enters the trucking industry. In 2022, Ashley Leiva was the 2022 Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence award recipient and was also the first female veteran to receive the award. 

Connecting the skills and mindset of the U.S. military veteran with the opportunity for independence and earning present in today’s trucking industry is a winning combination with potential to benefit the nation for decades. This Veterans Day, Platform Science thanks the current CDL drivers who served our nation as active duty and reservists, and looks forward to working closely with those who will be joining the ranks in the years to come.