Article

New faces Behind The Wheel

Truck drivers have traditionally been mostly white males, but a growing need for drivers and a changing population means that notion must change.

April 2007, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief - Also by this author

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"Over-the-road carriers are making a mistake by limiting their recruiting focus to less than 20 percent of the U.S. population: white males over the age of 25," says Marc Bailey, CEO of TamingTurnover, an Atlanta-based company specializing in using technology to help improve recruiting and retention.

"Only 5 percent of over-the-road drivers are women, but that's 65,000 women. If 65,000 women can do the job, why can't 130,000 or 250,000? Only 8 percent of OTR drivers are African-American or Hispanic. But if 100,000 blacks and Hispanics can do the job, why not 300,000?"

That's why progressive fleets and trucking organizations are searching for effective ways to reach out to these nontraditional demographic pools to find the next generation of truck drivers.

For instance, in 2005, Schneider National struck up a partnership with the AARP as one of the organization's featured employers to actively recruit mature Americans. The effort resulted in a 42 percent increase in mature driver hires in 2006 compared to the previous year.

The American Trucking Associations recently launched a media campaign and web site, GetTrucking.com, designed to reach out to potential drivers outside the usual driving pool.

A new organization, Women in Trucking, has been formed to promote career opportunities in trucking (not only drivers, but professional opportunities as well) to women and works to make trucking more female-friendly. For instance, WIT will urge truckstops to stock more products (such as clothing and toiletries) for women, and encourage truck manufacturers to make their designs more ergonomically friendly to women.

WIT plans to hold its own convention and to honor carriers, truckstops and suppliers who have proven to be female-friendly in their hiring and retention practices.

But perhaps the most activity is being seen in efforts to reach out to Hispanics.

There are more than 40 million Hispanics in America, and they are the fastest-growing minority population.

The U.S. population hit 300 million last year, and of the 100 million added to the population in the past 40 years, 36 percent were Hispanic, compared to 34 percent white and 16 percent black, reports the Pew Hispanic Center.

A DIFFERENT CULTURE

Swift Transportation, with its base in the Southwest, ownership of a Mexican trucking company and five terminals on the border, was recruiting Hispanic drivers long before the industry as a whole started talking about it as a way to alleviate the driver shortage. "With headquarters in Phoenix, we're close to the border. It's just part of our way of life," says Swift Vice President Dave Berry.

Key to attracting Hispanics is understanding that there are language and cultural differences, Berry explains. You need to have an environment where they feel comfortable. And while truck drivers must, by law, be able to speak and understand English, they're usually going to be more comfortable speaking their native language, so you'll need a staff that speaks Spanish.

"I think everyone's looking for some quick fix or magical way, and there just isn't one," Berry says. "Part of attracting Hispanics, or any other minority group, is that they have to feel comfortable. So that just takes a while to build that culture and put that in place."

Ricardo Rodriguez-Long, who works with Hispanics at Freightliner Long Beach, Golden Trucking Services and Uniroyal Tires, seconds that observation. A lot of companies, he says, "think if they just put a couple of ads in Spanish, it will make the phone ring. What are you going to do once they call you?"

Beyond the need to have support staff – recruiters, dispatchers, accounting staff – who speak Spanish, it's important to realize there's a huge cultural difference. For instance, Rodriguez-Long says, Hispanics tend to be very family oriented. They want a company that not only keeps that in mind, but also offers a warm, family type of atmosphere.

"The companies that are successful, such as Golden Trucking Services, create that environment. They provide medical care. They look at things that provide things for the family of the trucker. Maybe they don't pay an extra cent per mile, but instead, they make sure the person can be home three days instead of two."

Hispanics do well as truck drivers, Berry says, and many of them go on to become owner-operators. Rodriguez-Long says that in Southern California, a high percentage of the trucks being sold to owner-operators are going to Hispanics.

REACHING OUT

One of the challenges of reaching out to new demographic groups is educating them about the possibilities.

"You'll find groups of people that have never considered driving a truck as a career option," says Rob Reich, vice president of enterprise recruiting at Schneider National. "So you have a large education challenge on the front end – what's the job all about, and why it might work for this particular group."

To do that, it's important to find the right ways to access these groups. Just buying an ad on a Hispanic radio station or putting an ad in a women's magazine may not be the most effective way to go about it.

Schneider has had great success working with AARP, and is reaching out to Hispanic groups and military groups. "For each group it's a little different. You have to do some research to find different organizations that can introduce you to a group you're interested in. It could be a group that already directly works with people on employment opportunities. In some cases you're educating that particular agency first before you're actually talking to the candidates themselves."

The Truckload Carriers Association a few years ago reached out to the National Council of La Raza, which led to a driver recruiting and training program for Hispanics in the Philadelphia area called Careers in Trucking. It is managed by the Congreso de Latinos Unidos, a community-based nonprofit organization that serves the neighborhoods of Eastern North Philadelphia where the majority of the city's Latino population lives.

Hispanics interested in the program are thoroughly screened to make sure they are suited for a trucking career.

"Part of the beauty of the program is having a thorough prescreening process," says Kim Cromer, manager of employment services with Congreso. "We wanted to paint a very realistic picture of what the industry's like, and weed out the people who didn't have that in them, it's out of their comfort zone."

Those accepted into the program attend a five-week PTDI-certified course offered by a local truck driver training school. Employer partners, such as Werner Enterprises and FedEx Freight, help in the screening process, but students are not obligated to take a job with these partners, nor are the trucking companies obligated to hire the program's graduates. Congreso keeps in touch with the program participants, even after they complete the program and go into the workforce, and can help smooth out rough spots in the transition.

So far, about 150 people have graduated from the program since the first class was recruited in January 2004. Of the first group of 10, Cromer says, every one of them is still working as a trucker. The most successful is now working for a regional trucking company, making about $58,000 a year with full medical benefits. Another one has become a successful owner-operator.

Today there is a waiting list of applicants for the Careers in Trucking program in Philadelphia. Cromer hopes to work through the National Council of La Raza to encourage other affiliates to set up similar programs across the country.

HIGH-TECH SOLUTIONS

TamingTurnover's Bailey believes OTR carriers don't hire more women and minorities because they don't know how to reach out to and connect with these people. That's why Bailey and others in the pre-employment screening business are excited about the possibilities of using this technology to help reach out to women and minorities.

"It takes a special breed of person to make a career out of working all alone day after day, sleeping in a truck cab, eating most meals alone, getting home maybe five or six nights a month, and solving countless problems in real time," Bailey says. "But there are tens of thousands of people who do it, and do it well for many years. But it's not enough to profile white 40-year-old males if you want to hire women and minorities. It is absolutely possible to profile targeted groups of people to discover what they want and need."

Scheig Associates, which markets job-specific, behaviorally based pre-employment assessments, is also interested in using its technology in this area. The company is looking for partners for a campaign to use its screening process in recruiting drivers outside the usual white male demographic.

"Our assessments yield an 88 to 92 percent accuracy rate in identifying top performers, and folks of any race or gender that are most likely to be a good job fit," says Kyle Scheig, director of marketing and business development.

The idea is to reach out into communities where truck driving is not recognized as a job opportunity, such as minorities and women, and help those individuals understand the needs of the trucking industry and how they could benefit from it. Then pre-employment assessments could be used to identify those people who have the attributes that would likely make them successful truck drivers.

Scheig participated in a program sponsored by the Department of Labor and the American Trucking Associations Foundation to identify people from among displaced workers for training as long-haul drivers, which was successful in introducing new drivers into the industry. Three hundred and thirty dislocated workers expressed an interest in participating. Of those, 186 passed the Scheig assessment and were enrolled in the training program and 182 of them graduated from training – almost a 98 percent completion rate.

If such a system were expanded, through a partnership of trucking associations and leading trucking companies, Scheig says, "It could save the industry hundreds of millions of dollars in recruitment and training costs spent on the wrong individuals."

For more information

Pew Hispanic Center: pewhispanic.org, (202) 419-3600

National Council of La Raza: www.nclr.org, (202) 785-1670

Congreso de Latinos Unidos: www.congreso.net

Women in Trucking: www.womenintrucking.org, 1-888-464-9482

AARP Employer Resource Center: www.aarp.org/money/careers/employerresourcecenter/

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