Trucking — or not — with the twenty-somethings

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Updated Feb 19, 2015

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Though there are plenty of examples of men and women in their 20s jumping into trucking full-bore — and staying — research continues to show the demographics among drivers shifting to the older side, as I reported over the weekend with results from ATRI’s recent driver-demographics report. This drives no shortage of talk of just where the next generation of drivers will come from. While the answer of why the population is getting older may do well to include a recognition of the maturity that comes with age and the risk-aversion businesses are feeling more and more of these days, suffice it to say the whole question of how to attract the younger folks to the work of driving truck is one people are talking about — a lot.

Following the Conversion Interactive/Truckload Carriers Association recruiting and retention conference a couple weeks back now, an attendee of the conference wrote me with some observations he’d made talking to the twenty-somethings at the carrier he works for. 

The source is a longtime driver now working in retention at a carrier of size — not the biggest by far, but not the smallest, either. After he returned from the conference, he says, he and colleagues engaged in a little bit of head-scratching over the difficulties the industry writ large has had bringing the next generation into the business of driving truck. He put the question of why twenty-somethings seemingly weren’t interested in being truck drivers to a twenty-something in a nondriving role at the company, Bruce Jenkins. Though you run into problems of validity when making broad generalizations about any “generation” of people, Jenkins’ response was thorough, to say the least, candid, and touched on a myriad of issues. You can read it for yourself below. And: What do you think? Is the writer on to something? 

 

Why aren’t twenty-somethings interested in truck driving?
We are a generation of leisure. Not just leisure, but laziness. There is no piece of information we can’t access in the palm of our hands, and there is no product we can’t acquire by going to a single building that has every single product we could need on a regular basis. Most of us have no idea how these products reach their destination and do not care. Everything is done for us. No one my age knows about trucking. We are a generation of consumers — not suppliers. We have no idea what it takes to make our leisurely lives possible.

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?

Advertising. 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. –Bruce Jenkins

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