Investigative Report – Younger Generation Steering Away from Career in Trucking Industry

With driver capacity being a top issue in the trucking industry, carriers are investing in recruiting techniques to employ and retain drivers. In a brief interview, Freight Transportation Research Associates’ Managing Director & Senior Consultant Noel Perry explained that over the past three or four years, the industry experienced a driver shortage of 150,000, but that number has drastically increased, and will continue to do so, in the upcoming years. “Now we are at somewhere around 220,000 and we’ll stay in that neighborhood for another year and then it gets much worse.”

Perry explained two main factors leading the capacity shortage. “Right now it’s about 2/3rds regulation and 1/3rd expansion and the economy. The reason for the shortage is as demand for drivers increases; it frequently increases more rapidly than the recruiting apparatus can respond. There’s a risk in buying more tractors and hiring people and they’re not going to do it until things are really short. So they tend to get behind as the economy expands and regulation causes the need for more drivers. That’s the big cause.”

Carriers are using traditional means for recruitment (newspapers, magazines, radio, billboards, and ads placed directly on the truck) but with an ever-evolving technology-based world, trucking companies know that if they want to place drivers in the seats, they need to turn towards social media. In fact, according to Randall-Reilly Market Intelligence, over 96% of drivers have a Facebook account while LinkedIn houses the world’s largest professional network containing over 200 million members.

With the average truck driver being of 55 years of age, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and with retirement being a contributing factor in the shortage, the industry is looking for ways to recruit the new generation into a trucking career, but what they are finding is a younger generation steering away from entering into the industry.

In a recent poll Road Scholar Transport conducted, we asked transportation professionals why they believe the younger generation is turning away from a trucking career and here is what we found.

*Tech Savvy

One reasoning many respondents shared was the fact that the younger generation was raised in a more tech savvy world and look toward jobs that are technology-based. Just consider the process of sending a simple letter. Once you’ve written your letter, you must place it in your mailbox or drive/walk to a public collection box or post office. If not directly taken to the post office, the letter must wait to be picked up by the postal carrier. From the post office, the mail is taken by truck to the mail processing plant where it is then separated, postmarked, imprinted with a fluorescent bar code, scanned and sorted, and placed back on the truck to be taken to the processing plant nearest to its destination. The letter is then once again sorted and placed on a truck for delivery. But technology now makes sending a letter as easy as hitting a button and allowing for immediate delivery.

As Ahmed Balharith, Business Analyst/Consultant at Saudi Aramco states, “The new generation is passionate with technology, 3-piece suit, air conditioned office. They mostly all dream of ‘Google world.’ However, as we are shifting from Farming to Factory and now a technology world, the new generation needs to understand that the transportation business is also shifting drastically in that direction. We need to stress on that the field of transport is not different from any other field. We just need to emphasize the importance of transport as any other. Good and attractive Pay Package, Special Transport School, Better Work Schedule, Health Insurance and continuous training and development.”

“The younger generation is very technology-savvy, and expects new technology to be everywhere,” explains Jim Dyer, Northeast Regional Sales Manager at McLeod Software. “As in-cab comforts improve, and more OEMs and fleet owners embrace new technologies, trucking careers may become more attractive. Even in dispatch it will be a mounting challenge moving forward to find employees willing to work from paper or green-screens.”

The lesson being that if they want to attract younger drivers to the industry, trucking companies must adapt and invest in technological expectations.

*Image of the Industry/Lack of Education

Another explanation as to why the younger generation is steering away from a trucking career is the perception they are being given of a “life on the road,” stemming from a lack of education on the industry. Stricter regulations and requirements are not helping to improve trucking’s image either.

“Could it be because we have become over-regulated? Perhaps micromanaging our drivers? If anyone thinks back, drivers chose this career because it gave them the feeling of being their own boss. Due to a lot of new rules, a lot of reduction in time to drive, the employers micromanaging their drivers, this is no longer a career of choice,” said Hooper Aaron, Private Fleet Transportation Manager at Perdue Farms.

“The recent proliferation of regulations has certainly diminished the idyllic vision; the open road, freedom, etc.” Dyer added.

Whereas truckers were viewed as the Knights of the Road, younger individuals have replaced this image with one centered around a life on the road, one that offers little home time, something very important to a young man or woman looking to start a family.

As many noted, the negative impression of the trucking industry is a result of failing to educate youth who do not realize that it is a recession proof industry nor the money that can be made, not in just driving, but other positions as well.

Richard Lane, Executive Vice President at Trac International, voiced his opinion. “A career in trucking is not to be limited to driving a rig. The sales and operations management perspective is still a unique aspect of the industry and like all jobs, it takes time to move up as you have to compete for promotions…Financial success is there, and by that I mean six figure success, if there is a willingness and motivation to work more than 8 hours a day and a lunch break.”

Tristie Miller, Owner Agent at Roadrunner Transportation Systems, brings up a good point. “As a newbie, I don’t think one plans a career in trucking, at least with myself I kind of fell into it. I wish I had known when I was 18 or even mid-20s the amount of money a sales person can make is endless. Those who work at it that is. 20 years ago if I had anyone say I’d end up here I’d say they were nuts. I also think that with all this new technology, kids today think that’s the way of the future. I’m not disagreeing but meanwhile “stuff” still needs to get from point A to point B. It’s not rocket science. We just pick stuff up here and take it there. The devil is in the details that’s all.”

But Independent Transportation Professional Bob Hilditch demonstrates that the job of the driver is very important and doesn’t receive the recognition that it deserves. “Just look at how people are driven to go to college being the only road to success. Driving a truck is therefore viewed as a low class and low paying job with little or no opportunity to grow into higher level jobs. The job of the driver is very important. The driver operates a piece of equipment and the freight out of the sight of any management supervision. This person also has one of the last opportunities to either impress or outrage the customer. Too often the responsibility the driver has is overlooked. We must sell to potential drivers that this job is just as honorable and necessary as a dispatcher, accountant, salesman or CEO. When out on the road delivering to a customer, the DRIVER is the company.”

*Age Requirement

Age is another factor that definitely plays a role in who is entering the industry. Like Doug Stoiber, Business Development at L&M Companies, brings up, “As it stands now, one must be 21 years of age to get a CDL to haul interstate freight (18 year olds can get license to do intrastate in some states). This unfortunately eliminates truck driving as an available career path for most students graduating from high school. By the time they reach 21, many (but not all) have chosen other career paths.”

Stoiber is absolutely right. Upon graduating high school, most students choose one of two paths, furthering their education or applying for jobs. Many are not going to wait three or four years to begin a career.

“The starting age of 21 is a huge factor,” David Yearout, Vice President & General Manager at Unisource Worldwide agreed. “High school graduates can join the military (where they can drive a truck) or start a career in most trades (electrician, HVAC, plumbing, etc). By the time they are 21, anyone that would be a safe, dependable employee with a good driving record is usually too far down their career path for the move to start in trucking to make sense for them. We need to change the starting age to 18 to be able to attract the right people to this career path.”

*Work Ethic

Along with a technology-based world come changes in work ethic as well. Why would someone from the younger generation want to put forth the hard work of lifting heavy materials all day when they can sit behind a computer and sip coffee?

Michael Beane, Broker at Pearce Worldwide Logistics, sheds some light on this. “The younger group thinks it should be easy work and lots of pay. When I was a kid I didn’t get paid to cut the grass or take out the trash. You did things like that because it had to be done. The younger group thinks you should pay them for everything. I have been in this business for over 35 years. Drivers were proud to be a trucker. Walk the walk, acted the part, and were treated good. Now a days they’re coming looking like they fell in a tackle box with all the metal in their faces, ears and nose. Tattoos up to their eyes and dressed in all black and think someone is going to hire them. I was a trainer for 15 years and I don’t want to be around someone like that. More or less stuck in a truck with him for 6 weeks. Call it what you want to but I will not hire a driver like that for me. I don’t want the whole remembering my company as the one with the freaks and geeks. If a cop pulled you over and had a 6 inch ring hanging from his nose are you really going to be impressed? We give our kids too much these days and don’t make them work for it. I say all this as a single dad that drove 12 hours a day and took care of a six-year-old boy. I home schooled him in the truck. He learned what it was like to earn a dollar.”

“It is HARD work with no immediate self gratification,” Judi Button, Operations Manager at STC Freight Connections, chimed in. “No video game controller to operate the truck. The work ethic has declined a lot over the years. It makes me sad to say those things but they are true.”

*Cost of Entrance

The cost of becoming a driver is also factor that comes into play. As Alexander Thompson explains “It’s not the compensation or these claimed work ethic problems. It is the barriers of entry. You can put yourself through CDL school on your own dime; then you will find out the trucking companies are looking for real world experience, if/when you manage to get the experience, you will lack endorsements (HAZ related). In the end, and $5k later into training(s) on your own dime, you will most likely be unemployed.”

At the same time, if you work for the right company, a driving career can be very rewarding. As one transportation professional explained, it is a recession-proof industry. Every day freight needs to get to its destination and trucking is the most common mode of freight transport.

Just look at the great opportunities Road Scholar Transport offers:

-Operation within a localized footprint which allows our drivers to get home at LEAST every other night.

– Excellent equipment and maintenance procedures protecting and keeping our drivers safe. Road Scholar is well focused on safety, security, and technology. In fact, we have never been cited for a piece of faulty equipment in an accident.

– Excellent pay and benefits, compensating our drivers for their hard work, safety, and positive customer feedback.

-Flexibility in work schedules. Full-time and part-time positions are available.

-A great work environment where you will be treated with respect and equality as well as work with a friendly and knowledgeable operations team.

-A chance to see new sights and have once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

-The ability to make a difference with our awareness campaign.

“The best thing about working at Road Scholar Transport is that Jimmy [President of Road Scholar] is on a first name basis with everyone. It’s never Mr. Barrett,” states Tambra Dell, who drives our breast cancer awareness truck. “His door is always open to everyone. He tries to help, even if it’s a personal or family problem. He stands behind his drivers even when they screw up. Are there better companies out there? I’m sure there are. I’ve worked for several big companies. Only one I would go back to. If you are looking for NE regional, it’s the best. Jimmy will tell you my biggest fault is my mouth. I tell it like it is. Even to him. Do we have faults, yes we do. Every company does. But here, the pay is great, the work is there if you want it, good equipment and good benefits.”

If you would like to become part of Road Scholar’s family and pursue a trucking career within our company, simply visit Trucking Careers.