November 29, 2021

Industry urged to join workforce development programs

‘The idea of workforce boards is to determine what industries or sectors you want to support, and then allocate funds to help create a workforce to support those industries’

If there’s one thing the trucking industry is lacking, it’s self-promotion. That’s the opinion of Andy Owens, CEO of A&M Transport, who encourages industry leaders nationwide to take leadership roles on local workforce development boards.

The pandemic has revealed just how crucial the transportation industry — long taken for granted — is to Americans’ way of life, as well as how delicate it is. Owens makes the case for greater investment in the transportation industry as buzz for the supply chain has never been higher.

“In years past, trying to get transportation’s fair share of training dollars has really been a push and a struggle to get it,” Owens said. “Now, of course, with the supply chain crisis, transportation is kind of front and center and at the top of everyone’s mind.”

Appearing with Timothy Dooner and Michael Vincent on FreightWaves’ WHAT THE TRUCK?!? program, he discussed the pivotal role that Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Workforce Programs can have on boosting trucking industry awareness and employment opportunities, and he spotlighted trucking’s lack of representation on such boards.

WIOA is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy.

The best part about WIOA is that it doesn’t involve trips to Washington, but rather focuses on your local region. WIOA requires states to strategically align their core workforce development programs to coordinate the needs of both job seekers and employers through combined four-year state plans, fostering regional collaboration within states through local workforce areas.

Owens has served on the Southwestern Oregon Workforce Investment Board since 2015. Although his commitment to the role could be considered a full-time job, he said that anyone can get involved in a variety of capacities.

“Like with any volunteer position, you’re going to get out what you put into it; you can make it a full-time job or just make it a hobby,” Owens said, adding that appointments to the board are made by a recommendation from a community group like your like Chamber of Commerce and then approved  through a county commissioner or its equivalent office. “The idea of workforce boards is to determine what industries or sectors you want to support, and then allocate appropriate funding to the local Worksource or Employment offices to help recruit and train a workforce to support those industries.”

Oregon, for instance, has nine Local Workforce Areas throughout the state. They are supported by local civic, business and community leaders to strategize ways to best leverage funding and resources to build and support the workforce demands of their communities.

“My goal is to get a transportation representative in every workforce area across the United States,” Owens said, adding that by law, workforce boards must have a minimum of 51% private industry representation. “It’s a big push right now; in Oregon, we’ve gotten three individuals onto nine workforce boards, and soon we’ll have a couple more.”

Owens is optimistic that things are headed in the right direction, as Oregon’s trucking industry continues to be of concern. He said that any given trucking company in Oregon has anywhere from 10% to 25% of its fleet working part time due to a lack of drivers.

He said a realistic goal for workforce development boards should be to secure more government funding for employment offices to train more truck drivers and hopefully better promote the industry as a whole.

“I would encourage anybody who has an interest in workforce development — which we all should at this point of the game — to take a look into your local workforce area,” Owens said.