As the trucking industry struggles to attract new drivers to meet the rising demand for goods, one New Jersey assemblyman has co-sponsored a bill to expand workforce opportunities for young people.

A truck driver himself back in the day, Assemblyman Michael Torrissi, R-Atlantic, said he understands that college is not for everyone and therefore, it would be beneficial for those graduating high school to be offered a chance in the trucking industry.

Currently, drivers have to be at least 21 years old to get a commercial driver's license (CDL). But he said there are so many jobs in the trucking industry available out of high school for 18-year-olds.

While the minimum age to acquire a CDL is 18 years old in the state of New Jersey, most carriers adhere to something called "the two-year rule" when it comes to insuring young drivers.

Drivers must have experience driving a truck for at least two years before anyone will take on the driver for insurance.

So, in practice, while legally 18-year-olds can get licensed before they leave high school, that doesn't mean they may necessarily, and in most cases, they won't find work right away in the industry.

It’s our hope that by promoting greater collaboration between government, and the insurance and trucking industries, we can see progress on this issue, said Torrissi.

"We're missing that age gap from 18 to 21. I feel there are a lot of young people that can start a good career instead of starting college and starting different careers who can already be in the workforce," Torrissi said.

The idea is to get them licensed and on the road as soon as possible.

The young driver program would bring more attention to careers in the industry while allowing government and industry stakeholders to collaborate on issues relating to training, insurance, and driver retention, he added.

Torrissi said he's not talking about young kids driving a sleeper truck or a big box trailer going all over the country. There are many jobs whether it's working for the township or the state, delivering food, milk, ice, and more to local stores.

He said it's so important to promote workforce opportunities for young people that pay well, don't require a four-year degree, offer benefits and promotions.

Come winter again, there will be a need for plow trucks, pothole patrol trucks, and more. A CDL license is still needed for drivers to operate these vehicles but he said there's no reason why an 18-year-old can't learn how to drive such a truck.

"This bill would enable us to hire people 18 to 21 to get a job now," he said. Torrissi has also been talking to a lot of vocational-technical schools in the state that are in favor of having a CDL license course as part of the curriculum. These kids would get the necessary instruction and be licensed upon graduation.

He also moving forward with a bill to not only get young people equipped with a CDL license but also to help them become diesel and car mechanics. Even if someone decides to go the electric vehicle route, they still need to be maintained so more mechanics are needed.

Possessing a CDL license means higher wages for people, sending them on a very viable career path in the trucking industry, Torrissi said.

The bill, which is also sponsored by Assemblywoman Angela V. McKnight, D-Jersey City, has been referred to the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee where it awaits further action.

Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at jennifer.ursillo@townsquaremedia.com

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