So many miles, so little progress

Attracting new people to the trucking industry, especially to the job of long-haul driver, has never been a tougher sell than it is today.

Attracting new people to the trucking industry, especially to the job of long-haul driver, has never been a tougher sell than it is today. Say what we will about all the ways in which the job has improved -- better equipment, better pay and benefits, technology tools to make the work itself easier — it remains a darn tough job.

Ironically, it has also been something of a dead end job. While some drivers eventually move up to other positions within a fleet, many more rotate from carrier to carrier in search of a little extra pay or a better benefits package. When a driver finally climbs out of the cab for the last time, after five years or fifty, his or her job and professional status remain much as they were when it all began. So many miles, so little progress.

It does not have to be that way. TransMarkets Technologies LLC, a software and e-commerce provider to the trucking industry, is a start-up company with a new solution to help address the industry's labor woes: create career paths for drivers by making accredited college degree and certificate programs available to drivers right in the truck cab. “The U.S. military has proven that you can attract people by offering them access to free education, a way to build the life they want,” explains Jon Ricketts, director InCab University (www.InCabU.com). “We want our InCab University to be a powerful new recruiting tool for fleets.”

To make that vision a reality, the company has partnered with Chattanooga State Technical Community College to offer access to the college's online class library via a special network for drivers designed to permit them to do the coursework from any Internet-enabled personal computer or InCab device. Six fully accredited degree programs, including Associate of Science, Business Administration; Associate in Applied Science Management; and Associate of Arts are scheduled be offered initially and plans are to add more degree programs over time. Six certificate programs will also be offered beginning this month, including Certificate in Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Certificate in E-Commerce and Certificate in Web Design.

These are not just off-the-shelf classes, either. InCab University professors undergo an orientation program to help them understand the truck driving lifestyle and the challenges drivers face, notes Ricketts, and many of the classes will incorporate case studies from the trucking industry. Flexibility is also central to the program. Drivers are allowed to begin a course anytime, not just at the start of a term, as long as they complete the class within 16 weeks.

Tennessee-based Covenant Transport has been beta testing the program with a group of their drivers and response has been good, according to Ricketts. “We are encouraging fleets to take a look at their turnover rates and related costs and identify their ‘break-even point,’ the point at which offering qualified drivers access to free college education as a recruiting and retention tool makes sense for their company,” he says.

These are good issues to explore. Would your recruiters have better success if, like Uncle Sam, they could offer new drivers the opportunity to earn a degree while they made a living? Would drivers working on a degree be less apt to move on to another carrier? Are better-educated drivers safer, more valuable employees to your company?

If programs like InCab University are successful, perhaps one day soon drivers will see a bright future for themselves when they look through the windshield and down the road ahead — and perhaps fleets will see an end to the driver shortage.

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