On Sept. 11, at the Madam Walker Theatre Center in Indianapolis, Ind., the National Association for Minority Truckers will hold the fifth of six Transportation Career Expos as part of its national initiative to create 500,000 jobs in the trucking and wider transportation industry. ?The initiative is garnering a lot of attention,? says Kevin C. Reid, the association?s founder, chairman and CEO. ?Everything that?s made moves by truck, so it?s an industry that?s not going anywhere. These are jobs that can?t be outsourced.?

As far back as 2005, the American Trucking Association reported a shortage of more than 20,000 truckers in the growing trucking industry and warned that if the trend continued, the number of truck drivers to keep pace with the expanding industry will total 114,000 by the year 2014. More recent studies show the shortage continuing. ?The total tonnage of product needing to be transported by truck is expected to grow to 13 billion [metric tons] by 2014. Without a huge pool of truck drivers there?s simply no way to move the amount of material necessary by truck throughout the nation. Many trucking companies have simply closed up operations because they?ve been unable to find enough qualified truckers to fill open trucking jobs,? the ATA says.

In all its modes ? air, road, rail and water ? transportation holds tremendous promise of jobs and procurement contracts for small, medium-sized and micro businesses. Nearly half of the nation?s transportation workforce will be eligible to retire within the next 10 years, says Robert Bertini, deputy administrator for Research and Innovative Technology Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation. ?The development of new technologies and business practices will require transportation professionals to possess new technical and management skills. Innovations in transportation safety; freight shipment tracking; air traffic management; highway, bridge and pavement design; and transportation planning; and transportation systems management will be only as effective as workers? ability to apply those skills,? Bertini wrote in an article published Feb. 11, 2011, in Community College Times.

Crumbling system
With the demands of a ballooning population and the need to more efficiently move people to work, products to market and documents and packages to customers, federal, state and local governments are under pressure to upgrade and maintain the country?s crumbling transportation system.

At stake is the country?s economic competitiveness in the global marketplace. The World Economic Forum?s 2010 ? 2011 Global Competitiveness Report ranks the United States 23rd in infrastructure, while the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the country an overall ?D? in its most recent (2009) infrastructure report card, with a D grade for aviation, C for bridges, C- for rails, D- for roads, D for transit, and D- for inland waterways. The report card, which the society issues every four years, said it would require an investment of $2.2 trillion over five years to get the infrastructure in shape. The Obama administration included $129 billion for transportation in its budget for the 2012 fiscal year, the first year of a six-year plan to rebuild the infrastructure. ?Nationwide, our transportation systems are already congested and overburdened. With the United States? population expected to grow from more than 300 million in 2010 to more than 400 million by 2050, rebuilding and expanding the capacity of our roads, airports and transit systems is a strategic necessity for long-term economic growth,? U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at the time.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the country needs to spend $20 billion more a year than it is currently spending just to maintain its infrastructure at the present levels. On June 22, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded nearly $500 million from the 2012 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, discretionary grant program to 47 road, rail, transit and port projects in 34 states and the District of Columbia. And at the end of June, Congress approved $105 billion in transportation spending over the next 27 months.

Trucking appeal
Moving $609 billion in freight in 2011, trucking accounts for more than 80 percent of freight transportation revenue, according to the ATA. It employs 6.8 million people, including more than 3 million drivers, 4.6 percent of whom are women and 32.6 percent minorities. African-Americans make up 11.7 percent of drivers and Hispanics make up 9.7 percent. To help satisfy the increasing need for drivers, many companies are targeting a larger percentage of women truck drivers and minority truck drivers to be employed as long-haul truckers, who make deliveries more than 600 miles from pickup. ATA predicts a need for more than 200,000 new long-haul drivers to come into the industry over the next ten years.

The ATA describes trucking as ?the quintessential small-business industry,? with 90 percent of motor carriers operating six or fewer trucks and 97.2 percent operating fewer than 20. Minorities are at a disadvantage, however, because they lack the appropriate industry education and resources to establish, maintain and grow successful businesses.

Reid, whose first endeavor as an owner-operator failed, established the National Association for Minority Truckers in 2011 to fill that resource gap for minority employees and entrepreneurs. He explained the move to The Network Journal: ?I sat back and looked at all the things I had done wrong, what resources were available for me. Through research I continued to look for things for minorities in trucking and found very little. There were articles that spoke of minorities being taken advantage of in the industry and how minorities were used as front men to gain contracts for nonminority companies. I realized that there were a lot of minorities in this industry; that the organizations that existed were not as established to help minorities, but to help the big established companies.??

NAfMT has declared 2012 the ?Year of the Trucker.? Its yearlong celebration of ?our Nation?s Driving Force? will culminate with the organization?s Third Annual Memphis Trucking Expo, featuring career fairs, educational seminars, a trucker?s forum and a truck showcase. ?We decided we were going to go grassroots, do shows in states with the highest unemployment rates, work with elected officials, community organizations and church groups to get the word out in the minority community that there are jobs. We said ?let?s create a pathway to careers in transportation for our young people,?? Reid said. ?Minorities over the next decade may not be the minority in this industry. Whoever harnesses the minority truckers in this country will harness a lot of buying power. We?re starting to see that. We?re starting to be approached by corporations that want to market their products to us, like insurance benefits and new technologies.?