One of the most pressing issues facing trucking is the low number of young people entering the profession. In fact, a shortage of truck drivers is the top concern for the industry, according to the American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) annual survey for 2017. By 2026, the number of unfilled driver positions nationwide could exceed 174,000, according to ATRI. Qualified mechanics are also in short supply, along with a shortage of trained transportation personnel for a range of other positions that support trucking companies’ businesses.
Addressing the shortage is no small feat, and industry associations are collaborating to find ways to reach the younger generations. HELP Inc., the non-profit provider of PrePass services, is on the American Trucking Associations (ATA) Image and Communications Committee and a supporter of a Committee outreach project to actively encourage college-aged students to consider careers in the trucking industry. The project is the brainchild of Dustin Koehl, Vice Chair of the Image and Communications Committee and Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Mississippi-based Total Transportation, Inc. ATA’s Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs Elisabeth Barna, ensures that the project receives strong support from the association.
“The Committee is interested not only in how we can promote driver recruitment, but also in how we can encourage logistics and supply chain majors to go into trucking management,” says Karen Rasmussen, HELP Inc.’s President & Chief Executive Officer.
This past year, HELP Inc. joined a number of other ATA-member companies that provided funding for travel and hotel for students from Auburn University’s School of Logistics to attend the ATA Management Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Florida. This was the first time the ATA Image and Communications Committee partnered with a university to help students attend an industry event, but the goal is to offer other universities similar sponsorships in the near future.
Koehl is excited his idea to expose college students to trucking has taken off. A self-described Millennial, Koehl says he is passionate about improving the image of the trucking industry.
“Students don’t tend to think of working for trucking companies, because they might think it’s only about driving,” says Koehl. “When they hear there are companies like Total Transportation and we work with the giants like Nike, Amazon, and Starbucks, they’re surprised. There are so many opportunities working for companies like ours and the time is now to reach out to students, get them energized for careers they might not have known about otherwise.”
At October’s MC&E Conference, Koehl planned and facilitated a “Trucking 101” seminar for the students, inviting Rasmussen to speak about the evolution of technology in the industry; Scott Ware of Holland USA to talk about the LTL Industry; Daniel Wright of Wright Transportation to discuss the truckload industry and Tom Liutkus of TA Petro to talk about the travel plaza business. Students from Auburn were also invited to attend the HELP-sponsored opening night reception, where Koehl, Rasmussen and others introduced them to professionals from the private and public sectors. At the HELP/PrePass exhibit, the students participated in live demonstrations of new PrePass services, including INFORM Safety and INFORM Tolling.
Abby Hubbs, a student in Supply Chain Management, says she was excited to have the opportunity to attend the MC&E Conference. “Even after interning with a transportation company, the conference opened my eyes to the trucking industry’s extent and impact,” she says. One of her favorite experiences during the event was sharing feedback with ATA about ways to reach the younger generation, saying she was encouraged by the association’s strong interest in student opinions.
“I am interested in pursuing a career within the trucking industry,” says Hubbs. “I enjoy the fast-paced, ever-changing environment and genuinely enjoy keeping up-to-date on the most current topics and trends.”
The ongoing evolution of the industry is one of its most interesting aspects but also presents challenges, say Koehl and Rasmussen. With new regulations, technology such as driver-assisted and driverless vehicles and more changes on the horizon, input and ideas from new generations will be key to trucking’s success.
“Trucking companies of all sizes can benefit right now from the energy and skills of college students. Yet there aren’t many companies that offer formal programs for students, like internships,” says Koehl. “The students want to see more of these opportunities, so I encourage transportation companies to reach out to nearby universities and find out how to develop a program. It’s not just going to be good for you, it’ll be essential to the young executives driving the industry tomorrow.”