There is a severe truck driver shortage across the US right now, and it is affecting all sectors and states, including the swine industry in Illinois. It ranks fourth in pork production after the states of Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina.
Mike Borgic, Director of Membership at the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA), explains that the demand for ‘Commercial Driver’s Licence’ drivers is high across the country due to retirements and also due to truck drivers leaving the industry to look for different careers. It is not an easy job.
After hearing feedback from its pork producer members, “that truck driver shortages were impacting their bottom line and ability to move feed to their farms and animals to market,” explains Borgic, “IPPA decided to introduce a scholarship opportunity. This program is our first initiative to address the truck driver shortage.” He is not aware of other programs of this kind in other states.
About 10 days ago, those seeking to obtain – or renew – their Commercial Driver’s License in the state of Illinois could start applying for the chance to receive a scholarship of $ 1000 USD.
Applicants must already have a valid ‘Transport Quality Assurance’ certification, a program that trains pig transporters, producers and handlers how to handle, move and transport pigs. It includes training on the potential impacts transporting can have on pig well-being and pork quality.
Applicants must also show proof that they already haul pigs or feed for a producer in the state.
Since it rolled out, the program about 10 days ago, IPPA has already received inquires. “Since it is a new initiative, we want to examine the need before determining how many scholarships we will give out,” says Borgic. “At this point, we have the flexibility to increase the number of scholarships if the demand is met.”
Last year, the National Pork Producers Council released the findings of a study on the continued struggle to solve the problem of labour shortages in its industry.
From 2001-2020, the US pork industry grew at an annual rate of 1.5%, which was four times faster than employment growth in all US industries. In addition, from 2014-2019, the rural labour force in the US shrank in five of the eight top pork-producing states.
To help those in Illinois, the IPPA is currently creating on a job board that will be hosted on its main website where IPPA members can post job opportunities.
“We hope to have this platform completed in the next few months,” says Borgic. “IPPA also works with high school and junior college students to educate them about job opportunities in our industry. This next generation can not only serve as additional labour support but advocates for our industry with state and local stakeholders that are interested in learning more about pork production in Illinois. We must constantly advocate for agricultural related issues and allow our farmers the freedom to operate.”
This year, the IPPA began offering a monthly ‘Employee Spotlight’ award for pig farm employees. Along with widespread recognition, winners receive a BBQ grilling set and are also entered to win the grand prize, which will be announced in October 2022.