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Restaurants applaud a new potential curb on food costs

Chain restaurants are praising a plan to help food distributors and other supply haulers keep a rein on their transportation costs.

Restaurants are already hailing apprenticeships as a way of easing the industry’s labor pains. Now the alternate form of education is being championed by the business as a likely curb on food costs.

Federal legislation expected to be introduced on March 21 would create an apprenticeship path for more young people to become truck drivers for food distributors, suppliers and other interstate haulers. Transporters of restaurant supplies and other goods are facing an acute shortage of drivers. The American Trucking Associations has warned that truck fleet managers could have as many as 175,000 vacant cabs by 2026.

The shortage has serious implications for the restaurant industry, according to the National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR). A shortage of drivers could drive up compensation, which would likely translate into higher costs up and down the supply chain. Delivery schedules could also be affected.

The NCCR issued a statement Monday supporting the trucking apprenticeship legislation, known as the Drive-Safe Act.

“America’s long-haul trucking industry provides the vital distribution networks that serve the chain restaurant industry and so many other sectors of our economy, but they need a steady stream of new talent to enter the profession in order to function,” NCCR Executive Director David French said in a letter to the bill’s author, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.)

The measure would set up an apprenticeship program for high school graduates who are interested in becoming truck drivers. Although youngsters can be licensed to drive heavy-load commercial rigs at age 18, federal rules prohibit anyone under 21 from driving commercial vehicles across state lines.

By that time, according to French, the interested parties have already moved on to jobs that don’t have an over-21 age requirement.

The Drive-Safe Act would allow commercially licensed drivers aged 18 to 21 to raise their skills to a safe, professional level, first by driving with older permitted drivers, then going solo. After proving their proficiency, the youngsters would be allowed to drive interstate routes.

French called the apprenticeship idea “a smart approach to addressing an important need in a key sector of our economy.”

The Trump administration has championed updated versions of apprenticeships as an alternate career route for young people who aren’t interested in attending college or running up student debt. The National Restaurant Association has crafted a pilot program to use apprenticeships as a way of cultivating tomorrow’s restaurant managers. The association was a pioneer in working with the Department of Labor to develop the structure and particulars of the apprenticeship system.

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