In a session at SMC³’s annual Connections conference about the future of transportation industry demographics, speakers said existing leadership has to be ready to embrace these pools of potential workers.
“There are still men who get upset when they see a 98-pound woman getting out of a big rig,” said Ellen Voie, president and chief operating officer of Women in Trucking, an organization that advocates for more opportunities for women as drivers. “It’s about creating awareness inside the trucking industry. Why do you not have a female restroom in the terminal? Why are you using a woman in a short skirt for your recruitment ads?”
Voie said women currently make up 14 percent of management in the transportation industry.
“Women don’t think about being the only woman in the room because they don’t even notice it anymore, they’re so used to it,” she said.
Meanwhile, Kevin Reid, chief executive officer of the National Minority Trucking Association, said the trucking industry in general needs to promote awareness among the general public to capture new talent across all demographic categories.
“In the ‘70s and ‘80s you had 'Smokey and the Bandit' and 'BJ and the Bear,' but it’s not seen as a sexy industry these days,” Reid said. “Consumers see trucks rolling down highways, but they don’t pay attention to the industry. We need more awareness on the industry in general, not just with minorities. We need to rebrand the industry.”
Reid said his organization provides education and training, particularly to small companies that need help understanding the entrepreneurial aspects of trucking. Its outreach is becoming more focused on younger groups, with programs targeting the importance of transportation at the high school and university level.
Speakers said the key is that potential recruits to the trucking industry are often lost between ages 18 and 21, when they are swayed by other competing industries.
“Any industry where leadership is covered by one type of person, like women in nursing, change requires participation by current leadership,” said Dana Hook, vice president with the consultant CDM Smith and past chairman of the Women’s Transportation Seminar. “Do you as a company benefit from a diversity of workers? Or in this case, there aren’t even enough workers. If we only look at men to provide those needs, won’t be able to handle it as an industry. We have to have men saying, this is a good thing, we need to make it happen.”
The issue is critical for trucking companies, who are faced with a driver shortage as older drivers retire and aren’t being replaced at the same rate with younger generations. Page Siplon, CEO of TeamOne Logistics, which among other things helps carriers with workforce management, said the issue of trucker turnover is spreading through the entire industry.
Large fleets have 95 to 110 percent turnover on average, while smaller fleets are seeing turnover creep to nearly 100 percent as well, as larger fleets poach their drivers.
“Turnover is no longer just a large trucking company problem,” said Siplon. “It’s become a small business problem.”
Siplon said some carriers build their model on constant churn, while others see value in retaining a higher proportion of their drivers to avoid the costs of recruitment and training, even if compensation and other retention costs are higher.
Voie added that women can help fill capacity shortfalls for carriers if the traditional rules surrounding driver recruitment can be adapted to include them.
“We put too much emphasis on having a long driving record with no gaps,” she said. “But what about a female construction worker driving three months in winter. Or a teacher driving for three months in summer.”
Hook said another factor to consider is the millennial workforce.
“Milennials aren’t going to like the idea of being ‘owned’ for this certain time of the day,” she said. “They don’t like offices. They like flexibility. That’s not necessarily going to appeal to truckers in the current structure. Is there technology available to connect you with more drivers when you need them? Can we in transportation look to flexibility of uber-type technology to bring different people to be a part of the supply chain?”
Meanwhile, Reid said organizations like the three that gathered this week need to work together on initiatives to drive younger people into the industry across all demographic categories.
“Everyone in the industry is fishing in the same pond,” he said. “No one organization can individually do it. We need a grass roots movement.”