A special trucking career focus group, aimed at learning what messages are most effective for attracting the next generation of truck drivers, yielded some interesting results.

The Trucking Careers Focus group came together earlier this year by the Nebraska Trucking Association (NTA) and the Nebraska Trucking Foundation, in partnership with the University of Nebraska-Omaha and the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI). The organizations were looking for ways to ease the shortage of truck drivers.

Eighteen high-school students participated in the live, virtual-focus group, put together from a pool of 66 students, with a mix of different demographics.

When organizers asked the students about their top career choices, not a single one mentioned trucking as a career possibility. Rather, students expressed interest in business, health, technology and even skilled trade careers. The participants were also asked to give three words related to trucking or truck driving. Topping the list were the words: ”long,” “hours,” “nights,” “driving,” “tiring,” “scary” and “heavy,” along with “dad” and even “grandpa.”

Participants also watched a series of 15 digital advertisements. NTA had some of its members create advertisements that speak to this next generation of drivers. The ads aimed to boost the reputation of trucking as a career rather than to recruit the teens for immediate hire.

One ad included the headline, “Welcome to my office,” with the words “The world’s an amazing place and professional truck drivers get to see it.” The words overlaid a picture of a woman and a dog looking at a sunset, while standing beside the front of a truck tractor.

One of the ads the focus group viewed.

“The participants seemed to connect well with this advertisement although they recognized some Photoshop work had been done,” said the focus group report. “The message ‘Welcome to my office’ did not receive very many comments and, in later advertisements, there was some negative feedback on doing a compare and contrast between trucking and other careers.”

The focus group participants also described the ad in other ways:

  • “It’s a positive ad.”
  • “It gives the viewer a sense of adventure when most people might see truck driving to be a bit boring and long.”
  • “It would help maintain a good career feeling with such a sunset relaxation and some good times away from the office premises.”
  • “It seems like fun and I want my job to be fun.”

In fact, the other ads presented to the group  received mixed reviews. However, the focus group report noted that such advertisements did change the students’ minds about trucking, with several commenting they now view the profession in a much more positive light.

The question “Do you see trucking differently now that you’ve engaged in the group” generated a number of  positive responses:

  • “Yes. I was able to see the many different aspects of the industry, which is an industry that is not only important, but a great opportunity to explore the world, discover new tech, and enjoy an independent and rewarding job.”
  • “It helped give some good views on how adventurous trucking can be and how relaxing it could be during breaks. I think this helps to make trucking look more easy-going and fun.”
  • “Yes. I have always thought that you had to sleep in your seat and it was kind of dirty. In reality, you have tons of room and you even have a bed.”

So what will become of this learning experience for carriers?

“We plan to learn from this focus group, polish our messaging for the next generation and put our industry out there as a great career possibility,” said Dave Zelnio, Nebraska Trucking Association director of operations and communication. “By talking to the next generation, we can make Nebraska a leader and start convincing more young people to choose professional driving careers.”

For Erin Speltz, ATRI Research Analyst and a key player in helping the NTA organize the focus group, it was a refreshing way to see how the next generation of workers perceive the trucking industry. “The students’ opinions and reflections shared during the focus group serve as an insightful guide when generating and implementing strategies to address the driver shortage.”

For more information on the NTA Trucking Careers Focus Group, the report and future plans, contact Dave Zelnio at dave@nebtrucking.com.