OKLAHOMA (OBV) – Newly released research shows that although employment is strong in the U.S., the manufacturing industry is wrestling with a certified truck driver shortage, a struggle Oklahoma has been feeling and has taken legislative action to overcome.
Data from the Manufacturing Institute’s Center for Manufacturing Research took a deep dive into workforce trends, looking at manufacturing employment statistics.
The U.S. workforce was a record 161 million strong in April, approximately 2.28 million more workers than in February 2020, according to Workforce in Focus, the Center for Manufacturing Research’s newsletter.
April’s labor force participation rate was 62.6 percent, the best rate in three years. The rate is 0.8 percent below pre-pandemic levels but is trending higher than recent months. The unemployment rate in April improved to 3.4 percent from March’s 3.5 percent.
And while the manufacturing industry has 12.9 million employees, having grown by 11,000 in April, some sectors of the industry are struggling, chiefly certified truck driving.
The top posted manufacturing occupations in need of full-time workers that are non-remote or in-person over the past 12 months are as follows:
- Tractor-truck truck driver
- Mobile applications developer
- Laborer/warehouse worker
- Manufacturing machine operator
- Production worker
The U.S. had a shortage of 80,000 truck drivers in 2021, according to the American Trucking Associations. Less than 2.1 million workers were employed as heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Oklahoma was deficient 5,777 truck drivers in 2021, including light truck drivers and industrial truck drivers, according to the Critical Occupations List.
The national truck driver shortage could plummet to 160,000 by 2030, and a million new drivers are needed over the next decade to address the demand, according to ATA officials.
Oklahoma state leaders took action this legislative session to address the truck driver demand.
Rep. Nicole Miller, R-Edmond, and Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, co-authored the bill.
Jerome Redmond, president and chief executive officer for American Truck Training, spoke with Oklahoma Business Voice in late April, saying that the new law will not only positively impact Oklahoma’s workforce, it will also help the ongoing effort to improve working Oklahomans’ quality of life.
“First, I think this is yet another way to advance the efforts by the governor to make Oklahoma a top 10 state,” Redmond said. “And two, I’m just proud of the fact that the governor takes Oklahomans not having jobs extremely seriously on his his list of things to do, and not just jobs, but high-paying jobs that move the needle for families in Oklahoma.”
Miller and Haste wrote HB 2750 in response to the commercial driver shortage. The bill allows Service Oklahoma to enter into agreements with third parties to provide the written portion of the commercial driver license test.
“Service Oklahoma was very good to work with us on it,” Miller said to Oklahoma Business Voice in late April. “They are very supportive in trying to open up new testing sites and access to testing expediently, so we should be seeing [new testing locations] within the coming months.”
CDL written exams are now required to be available within 50 miles of an applicant’s residence. The new law also allows Service Oklahoma to administer the test at public or private sites.
School districts, the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, colleges and universities and private entities can hire designated examiners to administer the written portion of the Class A, B or C driving skills exam required for a commercial driver license.
Oklahoma’s CDL testing system was considered inefficient because of too few regional testing locations to accommodate the number of applicants waiting to take the written test. Oklahoma currently has around 30 locations that can administer the written test. Many testing locations are fully scheduled for 60 days or more and other locations are walk-in only. Many applicants wait long periods to obtain their permit and continue through the licensing process.
Miller and her colleagues in the legislator had multiple meetings with Service Oklahoma.
“Service Oklahoma agreed with the need to create more testing sites. The more you expand those opportunities the quicker we can get [aspiring truck drivers] through the testing process,” she said. “Oklahoma wants to be a part of fixing that and making sure that our supply chains and our efficiency in that goods and services are getting to people.”
The State Chamber of Oklahoma was a leading advocate of HB 2750, supporting the bill as part of the Chamber’s ongoing campaign to revitalize Oklahoma’s workforce.
“I think it’s not only a high priority bill, but high on the State Chamber agenda is removing barriers for obtaining a commercial driver’s license,” Redmond said. “We’re about 80,000 truck drivers short in our nation and close to 6,000 short in Oklahoma. It’s one of those low-hanging fruit items the governor is focusing on to get folks into higher paying jobs. It takes pressure off of the labor market to find drivers in our state, because there’s a shortage of drivers in our state and around the country.”
Expanding the number of testing sites for CDL written tests will also get more certified drivers behind the wheel of school buses, which Miller said is urgently needed in school districts across the state. Miller expects to see positive results by the start of the next school year.