New faces in the driver's seat

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), truck driving is projected to be among the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. over the next ten years. The employment of truck drivers and driver/sales workers, as BLS defines them, is projected to grow 18%,or by 589,000 jobs, between now and 2010. Those positions will come on top of the 3,156,000 driver slots the government says are already

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), truck driving is projected to be among the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. over the next ten years.

The employment of “truck drivers and driver/sales workers,” as BLS defines them, is projected to grow 18%,or by 589,000 jobs, between now and 2010. Those positions will come on top of the 3,156,000 driver slots the government says are already filled.

The question these stats begs is simple but crucial. Who's going to fill all those seats-and how will trucking draw them in?

NOTE TAKER

It could be said Mario Mireles has trucking in his blood. His father was a truck driver in his native Mexico before emigrating to the United States. But Mireles says family history has nothing to do with why he began driving a truck.

As it happened, a 12-year stint as an artilleryman in the U.S. Army wound down with Mireles receiving a medical discharge due to a back injury. Once out of the service, Mireles says he cast about for a new line of work and got bit by the trucking bug. “Most people,” he remarks, “would tell you a bad back and trucks don't mix. But I can tell you a big rig rides better than a pickup.”

Mireles may not have been born to truck, but trucking is surely growing on him. At 41, he is the proud owner-operator of a fleet of three tractors, all leased to the truckload carrier where he launched his driving career seven years ago.

That was after travelling almost 300 miles from his home in Alamo, TX, to a truck-driving school in San Antonio. “I entered the industry as a true novice,” Mireles points out.

As he worked toward his CDL, Mireles began investigating which fleets had the best equipment. He says he did not have to look far-”a CFI recruiter at the school got me. I then learned the ropes from their trainer.”

During the three years he spent as a company driver for the Joplin, Mo-based truckload carrier, Mireles says he “took notes on how owner-operators operated — I kept an eye on those who failed to learn what caused them to fail.”

Four years ago, Mireles started running his own truck leased to CFI and has since added two more tractors, each of which is operated by a team. All three trucks run throughout the Lower 48 and Canada.

The number of Americans describing themselves as Hispanic grew by almost 60% in the 2000 Census to now total 35.3 million. Hispanics, or more broadly, Latinos, comprise the nation's fastest-growing minority.

According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics, who may belong to any race, are persons whose ancestors are from Spanish-speaking countries. About two-thirds of American Hispanics are of Mexican descent.

Census 2000 shows that the Hispanic (all races) population is now 12.5%, up from just 9% ten years ago, What's more, Hispanics are now almost numerically equal to African Americans.

Government statistics also show that as of 2001, 12.6% of truck drivers are of Hispanic origin. That means the Hispanic representation in the truck driver's seat is at least keeping pace with the group's standing within the population.

HURDLE JUMPER

In 1993, fresh out of the U.S. Air Force after an eight-year hitch that included overseas service during and after Operation Desert Storm, African-American Tim McCrary was looking for work. But, he says, “after 22 months in a Turkish desert, I was not in a big hurry.”

Fate sped him on his way when his truck-driver brother invited him on a short run from their native Georgia up to South Carolina. “I said to him, ‘They pay you to do this?’ After the desert, the view form that cab looked pretty good.”

McCrary, 35, says that one trip hooked him and his brother helped get him “on the right track — he knew which companies had good training programs.”

He contacted three such carriers and CRST International was able to get him into a driver's seat the quickest. Starting in '93 with the Cedar Rapids, IA-based truckload carrier as a student driver, McCrary relates that he “worked his way through the ranks” to become a full-fledged company driver and then a student-driver trainer.

While at CRST, McCrary received consecutive yearly safe-driving awards and five winter safe-driving awards. He was nominated by CRST and served as a 2000-01 captain on America's Road Team, ATA's driver-focused industry outreach effort. “About that time,” says McCrary, “I began looking into purchasing my own truck to become my own boss.”

He says becoming an owner-operator leased to CRST — his McCrary Enterprises now fields two team-driven trucks that travel the 48 states — has worked because “they [CRST] know what type of worker I am and I know how they work.”

As to how things have worked for him, McCrary concedes there have been “hurdles to get over” to reach where he is now.

“Trucking employs a majority of white males and the majority of fleet owners are white males,” he says. “I did not pay much attention to that initially because I was focused on what I was trying to do because I [for myself] have to be successful at whatever I am doing. So I watched and learned and applied my work ethic to the job.

“When I was a Road Team captain,” McCrary states, “I wanted to show that anyone who applies him or herself can reach their goal.”

Census 2000, which excluded from its black category persons who identified with two or more races, shows that 12.1% of the population (33.4-million persons) is now African American, up just slightly from the 11.7% recorded in 1990.

However, the government says African Americans accounted for 14% of all truck drivers as of 2001. That means they are just slightly better represented in the driver's seat than they are in the general population.

PIONEER LEADER

Ina Daly is proud of coming from “a truck-driving family,” including her father. “They are ‘good old boys’ in his generation,” she remarks. “But far from not wanting women around, he encouraged me when I showed interest in becoming a driver.”

Daly, 39, now has 18 years driving a tractor-trailer — and over one-million accident-free miles — under her belt. She pulls doubles locally in the Phoenix area as an LTL driver for Con-Way Western Express, where she started her career, and also teaches in the carrier's driver-training school.

Professional recognition she's garnered so far includes a 15-year safe driving award, a million-mile Distinguished Driver award and four first-place finishes in the Arizona Truck Driving Championships. Her latest capstone was being named a captain on the 2001-02 America's Road Team.

“When I started driving,” Daly recalls, “a few male drivers told me I would ‘not hold up’ and some would purposely not help me. On the flip side,” she adds, “they were shocked if I went and helped them.

“Women don't have physical limitations that keep them from being drivers,” she continues. “We're limited only by what we are told.” Daly points out that along with the support of her father and four brothers she also drew strength early on from a grandmother she says was “the pioneer type.”

Daly notes that when she started with Con-Way Western it was new to the business, too. “I was one of the first women drivers they hired and believe my record helped open the door for others. I feel the company is not hesitant at all to hire women.”

She also points out that as a single parent, driving LTL is ideal for her. “With my responsibilities at home,” Daly says, “I would not go on the road.”

Daly has her own theories on why women have the potential to be excellent truck drivers. “You hate to generalize,” she says, “but most people would agree that women do tend to be less aggressive behind the wheel. But that,” she hastens to add, “is not to say I haven't encountered bad women drivers!”

Daly contends one aspect of putting women into the driver seat that benefits both employee and employer is the pay scale. “Women are often paid less than men — but not as truck drivers,” she says. “So when a woman gets a job she knows pays everyone the same, she will be less likely to move on. Women appreciate equal pay.”

According to Census 2000, of our nation's total population of 281.4 million, 143.4 million (50.9%) are women. But the government says only 5.3% of all truck drivers today are women.

And the number of women in the labor force is projected to grow at a significantly higher rate than men. There will be a 9% growth in the number of men but a whopping 15% in the number of women.

Ten years ago, men accounted for 55% of the labor force; now they equal 53% and will fall to 52% by 2010. Correspondingly, women accounted for 45% in 1990, now are at 47% and will reach 48% in ten years.

DREAM MAKER

Like Ina Daly, Michael Bridgman is a captain on the 2001-02 Road Team. But Bridgman, 58, has only been driving trucks for six years.

Truck driving is a new career for Bridgman, who sold a specialized construction-related business he developed to a national outfit a few years back. “After that, I was basically retired,” he relates. “No pressure, but I didn't like it.”

Bridgman years before had briefly driven a bus after getting out of the U.S. Navy but was “discouraged by family and friends” from pursuing a driving career.

Instead, he entered trucking as a sales manager for Jacobs Transfer and later sold VDO and Argo tachographs. “I had my feet in with those jobs but it wasn't until after I sold my business that I saw an ad for instructors placed by a driving school that helped get me where I am now.”

Bridgman learned he needed a CDL to instruct. He got his, became an instructor, developed various training curriculum and eventually went on to do contract training work for the U.S. government.

He also kept a hand on the steering wheel, so to speak, by also working as a temporary driver. Six years ago, Bridgman, who lives near Baltimore, joined Miami-based Ryder Transport Services as a driver-trainer and “pool” driver filling in where needed.

“For me,” he says, “it's a dream come true. I have never had more fun in my life. I really enjoy driving and view it as an adventure wherever they send me.”

Not surprisingly, Bridgman urges fleets to recognize there's “a big untapped market of potential drivers out there among good workers who've taken early retirement but aren't ready to sit at home.”

According to the BLS, the 55- to 64-year-old group will have the most labor force growth — 52% — over the next ten years.

Of course, that also means growth in the 35- to 44-year old group will slow to just 21%, and growth in the 35 to 44 group will actually decline by 10%.

And workers in the truck-driving “entry level” group of 25 to 34 years will grow by just 8%. The youngest group of potential drivers, 16 to 24 years, will grow by 15%.

By 2010, white (non-Hispanic) workers will still account for nearly 70% of all workers. But, projects BLS, they will record the slowest labor force growth rate, just 6%.

Interestingly, the category of “Asian and other, non-Hispanic” will increase its showing in the labor force faster than any other group. However, that growth will only translate into fewer than 2.5 million new workers.

On the other hand, workers of Hispanic origin (any race) will increase nearly as fast at 36%. Those of black, non-Hispanic origin will increase less rapidly at 17% — but even that pace is nearly three times as fast as what will be shown for whites.

Clearly, the face of the nation's truck driver is changing. And it will keep changing, especially at fleets whose managers are willing to cast a wider net to fill driver's seats from an increasingly diverse labor pool.

Diversity is a national strength. And based on the statistics cited here, U.S. fleets are doing a commendable job overall-with the glaring exception of women-hiring minorities as truck drivers.

But as the white male labor force continues to age and shrink, there will be plenty of women and more members of racial/ethnic minorities that will have to be recruited to ensure driver's seats don't go empty.

DRIVER'S-EYE VIEW

In talking to the select group of drivers profiled here, who together represent a cross section of the types of people who are driving trucks now and will be in the future, it becomes patently obvious fleets can do a better job.

They point out that fleets, whether trying to reach white, black, Hispanic or female candidates, do not always convey how rewarding a career truck driving can be, nor do they always take full advantage of the many avenues open to them to reach prospective drivers.

“If a fleet put me in charge of recruiting,” says owner-operator McCrary, “yes, I would approach it differently. To reach minorities, you need to be where they are. What about fleets posting their opportunities at unemployment offices? How about taking advantage of web links to groups like the NAACP or participating in a job fair in an inner city neighborhood?

“If there is a shortage of drivers,” McCrary adds, “then maybe they need to be trying harder to reach out to a wider audience.”

But even fleets that do reach out to minorities may need to think about their approach, especially to avoid ineffectual “one size fits all” recruiting methods.

“Large, successful carriers can be intimidating,” points out owner-operator Mireles. “A powerful corporate image can lead a prospect to think they must have lots of driving experience just to apply.”

Mireles says it's important not to talk down to people but to “talk to them at their level-even if that means hiring a local recruiter who knows the community or at least inviting a driver from the area to speak informally to candidates.”

When it comes to reaching out to women, who remain a woefully untapped resource for drivers, fleets should not be shy about proclaiming the advantages of truck driving.

“The truth,” Con-Way Western's Daly points out, “is many women are stuck in dead-end, low-paying jobs. Trucking, if they knew it, would offer them a way to do much better.”

Daly says she has encountered people who want to know more about trucking, and they are not all women. “A house painter approached me once who was interested in becoming a driver. He said he just didn't have the slightest idea of how to go about it.”

See this story and more online at www.fleetowner.com

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