When combing through a stack of truck driver resumes it can be difficult to deny a common trend. A commercial driver resume that lists one employer for twenty years is not something that I have personally ever seen. That, of course, is one radical end of the spectrum. However, it is still rare to see a resume boasting multiple years of service at just a few different employers. Unfortunately, in my experience, the radical other end of the spectrum seems to be the norm; a resume containing a multitude of different employers and listing only a few months of service at each. The majority of driver resumes I see cut off at a certain year as if the author simply became tired of listing them all, or possibly couldn’t bear to attempt to remember every detail of their nomadic careers.
We don’t see the resume of the driver who’s been gainfully, and happily employed at the same place for the last fifteen years because these types aren’t active job seekers. But why do the ones we do see look like a target that’s been riddled with buckshot; a scattering of various jobs with little rhyme or reason? What circumstances within our industry does this trend reflect? I believe a common answer to this question might be, “that’s just the way drivers are.” I’ve heard that before. I’ve said that before. However, I believe that making such broad generalizations, regarding any group of people, is irresponsible and lazy. Truck drivers are human beings, and what human being wouldn’t want to stay at a good job in which they were treated respectfully and professionally?
Everyone is different, and surely there are people that don’t want to stay at the same job for too long because they don’t want to feel trapped, or they want to grow and learn new things, or they want a change of scenery. Whatever the reason may be, there is a demographic that is inclined to move from job to job. However, much of the data indicates that the millennial generation is much more likely to interface with the job market in this particular manner. And millennials make up a small percentage of the trucking industry. Baby boomers possess the biggest market share regarding jobs within the trucking industry. And if we are going to generalize; “baby boomers are more inclined to value staying at the same job for a long period of time than millennials” is a much fairer generalization than “that’s just the way drivers are.” So, although I don’t place much value in broad generalizations, the former in the previous sentence does raise some questions.
Why is a common trend within an industry whose foundation is made up of 40-50-year-old men, who are rapidly becoming a coveted commodity that we may only be able to replace with machines, not being enticed to stay at one job for an extended period of time? Drivers are valuable. Everyone in the industry is aware of the national driver shortage that threatens its future operation. Every employer is scrambling to think of new and creative ways to recruit and retain millennials for the future health of the industry. And although this is almost a separate issue, it’s indicative of the problem.
Close your eyes and picture a truck driver. What do you see? I think it’s safe to say that the stereotypical image of a truck driver is not very flattering. And I think this popular perception of what a truck driver is, has many implications that work to disparage drivers. Truck drivers and tractor trailers are the backbone of our civilization. We depend on trucks for so much of what we need, not only to survive but also to be comfortable. We’ve become accustomed to a certain lifestyle in this country and without the large-scale transportation of goods, that way of life does not survive. And although the technology for widespread automated tractor trailers might be right around the corner, I don’t see how the technology can account for the human element that will inevitably surround it. Without perfect conditions, meaning only automated vehicles operating on the roadway, I don’t see how automated tractor trailers can operate safely in the highly precarious environment that is human vehicle traffic.
So, I think it’s reasonable to assume that we are going to need truck drivers for quite a long time. People accept that we need emergency response personnel i.e. firemen, paramedics, police, soldiers, etc. These groups are mostly touted as heroes and the public often has a positive image of the individuals that make up these professions. And while not taking anything away from any of the aforementioned dangerous and selfless professions, truck driving is right up there with them. By the numbers it’s just as dangerous as any of these jobs, if not more so, and just as necessary. The dependence we have on trucks, and truck drivers, is one that could only be truly evident in their absence. But our goal should be to not find this out the hard way.
So how do we accomplish this? Why do so many drivers jump around from job to job? Why does the general public see tractor trailers as more of a nuisance than a necessity? Why wouldn’t employers see the true value in a good driver? These are difficult questions, to which I don’t necessarily have the answer. But sometimes the only way to get closer to a solution is by asking more questions. But we have to start with ourselves; as people within the industry, as supervisors, as dispatchers, as HR reps, as managers, as employers, as business owners, as citizens. Take an employer in the transportation industry for example. They can ask themselves “am I creating a culture and an environment where drivers feel valued and respected?” “Do I see the value in the drivers I employ?” If the answer is yes, “is that feeling reflected in how they’re treated on a daily basis?” “Are my drivers treated respectfully and professionally?” “Are they trained properly and subsequently trusted?” As an employer if these answers are no, then I think said employer must look no further as to why they cannot retain drivers. How can we expect the general public, who indirectly depend on truck drivers, to view them as heroes as opposed to villains if we, the people within the industry that directly depend on them, are not viewing them as such?
Anyone that’s been in the trucking industry for a significant amount of time has surely seen a driver mistreated or taken advantage of, through no fault of their own. It’s easy to tell a driver to do something illegal when you know you won’t suffer the consequences if caught. It’s easy to say “do it now or I’ll find someone else that will,” when your hiring model is of the revolving door variety. I’ve heard some say that if you want to make an omelet you have to break some eggs. If they are referring to drivers as eggs, we are rapidly running out. A common psychological concept is that if you want to fix the world, start with fixing yourself. I think we can apply that to our current dilemma of having a hard time finding good drivers. If we start building the good daily habits of creating a workplace in which drivers find it pleasant to work, then maybe one day we’ll have enough of them. It may start with a simple please, thank you, or good job but if continuously practiced can progress and grow and one day result in a workplace to which drivers look forward to going.
Mike DeAngelo is the Safety & Compliance Manager for Vestal Asphalt, Inc.
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