There’s much talk of late about trucking’s next generation of drivers.
The current driver shortage has been one of carriers’ top concerns in recent years, and the anticipated worsening of that shortage remains a long-term concern for fleets and the industry as a whole.
And with the current generation of truck drivers quickly nearing the age of retirement, carriers have placed an emphasis of late on attracting a new, younger pool of drivers to the industry — though with varying success.
A report in recent months from ATRI shows the median age for truck drivers to be around 45, well above industries like construction and service and the U.S.’ total workforce.
So why aren’t those in their 20s — who have a much higher rate of unemployment than the national average — interested in driving a truck?
CCJ sister site Overdrive’s Senior Editor Todd Dills talked in February with a longtime driver now working in retention at a mid-sized carrier about the issue, who subsequently pitched it to one of a twenty-somethings, Bruce Jenkins, who’s in a non-driving role at the company.
Here’s what Jenkins had to say about millennials’ potential issues with the industry and what carriers can do to recruit them:
An occupation in truck driving is not generally considered a successful achievement and has a lot of bad stigma. We grew up with stories of truck driving being dangerous and dirty. We grew up being told to go to college before we even knew the word education. If you don’t continue your education you cannot be successful: This is the idea we grew up with. And it’s partially true — 300 million people is a lot of competition, and even the most basic jobs now require post-grade-school education.
Truck driving is associated with long, lonely days and poor hygiene and health.
Our parents grew up knowing local police, while we avoid law enforcement whenever possible. This makes driving a vehicle that requires this type of interaction unappealing.
Driving sucks. When have you ever made it through a day without hearing about traffic, accidents, or commutes?
We are over-sheltered and spoiled and that doesn’t end when we leave the nest. Our parents were out of the house at 18 and struggled to make life work for them– they don’t want to do that to their kids.
Trucking is hard and we don’t have to work hard. We have parents and a government that will give us everything we claim we can’t achieve on our own. Don’t want to work? Unemployment. Can’t afford an apartment? Your parents want you to stay home. Can’t pay your phone bill? That’s OK because your parents are probably paying it anyway. Don’t want to work to raise your kids? Government support literally pays out more money than you could make at a 40-hour job, covers your child care, and they will actually tell you that at the office where you get it.
What would it take to get our generation to want to be truck drivers?
Compete. You are not just competing with other trucking companies; you are competing with every job obtainable by a potential employee with the same skill level. Retail, fast food, beverage/hospitality, maintenance, admin. Why is driving a truck better than working in a climate-controlled environment where I can be clean and sociable, while working fewer hours?
Advertise. Our generation does not know anything at all about truck driving. Not its requirements, lifestyle, or importance. Advertising that you need truck drivers with CDLA or military experience will make anyone under 30 years old pass by. My generation does not know what “dedicated miles” and “home time” mean. Most ads cater to drivers that are already drivers. If I didn’t have the confidence that I have, I would look at these signs and ads and see “you cannot do this.” Advertise in malls, on light rail, at sports events, entertainment venues — places our generation frequents. Advertise in color, with real incentives that matter to a generation that generally doesn’t believe it can accomplish anything without college experience.
Recruiting. It looks to me like the industry is just sitting around waiting for drivers to show up. When they do go out and seek drivers, they are looking for veterans and old-school drivers. I don’t see young people being actively recruited.
Technology. No one today has to go without current tech. We live in an age where there is a new iPhone every six months and the idea that old tech is taboo. To an extent, it is. Technology today becomes outdated almost as soon as it is introduced to the public. Up-to-date technology not only shows, but is required, for success. Show off what we have and why it matters to them and not just to the industry.
Money. We are all in debt. Or just flat-out poor. Cents per mile doesn’t mean anything to us. If I see “50 cents per mile,” all I can think is how much I have to drive and the equation I have to do in my head to know how much money I can make. If I see $1,000 a week, I’m ready to get dirty. Seeing a new-hire bonus is a good incentive, but seeing a scheduled payout over several months (for a job I’m not even sure I can do) is not attractive.
Programs to acquire a CDL. There are affordable programs and trade schools that actively advertise how easy it can be for young people to become nurses, practitioners, and technicians (granted they care little for the success of their students and more about bringing in money). My generation cannot even afford to get a class C license, let alone purchase a dependable vehicle. We can’t afford the money or the time. Acquiring the skills for a new profession means taking time away from when you need to be working to pay your bills. No one wants to study for tests, especially on their own. It would be a good idea to provide financial support or reimbursements for licensing. In-house prep classes with a low student-teacher ratio. The equipment to accommodate the number of students in each class.
If the industry is losing our generation, it should invest in education. Take responsibility and guide them to become what is needed. Mentoring and training dependable drivers from the beginning is a lot easier than teaching old dogs new tricks.
Benefits. I never see or hear anything about the benefits, rewards, or positive aspects of truck driving. Four out of five people I know haven’t had insurance for years and are doing everything they can to avoid the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Insurance policies are hard to understand, acquire and pay for. Let people know that we offer benefits and a team that can help them understand and process them. Let people know what’s good about the industry and why they want to be a part of it.
Image. Show your target group something that is relatable. I don’t see anyone my age driving a truck. I don’t see anyone my age in trucking ads. I don’t see anyone my age in trucking news or politics. I don’t see anyone my age involved in this industry, anywhere, except in an office. Our generation either went to college and doesn’t want a truck-driving career, or they didn’t go to college and don’t see truck driving as something they can do. Show interest, don’t just expect it. I don’t know how many times I have mentioned an interest in obtaining a CDL or just learning about driving and expanding my knowledge — even those of us who are interested are passed by.