Trucks at Work

Building a pipeline of people

Service men and women are dedicated team players who get the job done. Veterans bring to the table perseverance, teamwork and a keen ability to get the job done right.” -Mark Rourke, president of Schneider National Truckload

I‘ve talked in this space before about how our military service personnel provide perhaps one of the best labor pools available to meet the future needs of the trucking industry. For one thing, they absorb and practice a type of discipline you won‘t find taught anywhere else. Another is that many are getting training as drivers and mechanics - skill sets taught at fewer and fewer trade schools today - that are going to be extremely valuable in this industry as trucks keep evolving into ever more complex pieces of technology.

The trick for fleets - and for the dealerships and repair shops that support them - is building a pipeline to bring these potential workers in through the front door and keep them there for a career. It‘s not easy, true, but it‘s not impossible either.

For starters, many soldiers in the Armed Forces today entered the service with the express idea of acquiring skill sets for careers as truck technicians. That‘s the hope of PFC Justin A. Grantham of Amarillo, TX, stationed with the 25th Infantry Division in Iraq. He went over in Nov. 2007 and won‘t be back until March next year - not easy or safe duty by any means. [We salute your service for our nation my friend and you remain in our prayers. Come home safe!] The question is how to bring him into a civilian shop when his enlistment is up in 2010.

I don‘t know Justin personally, but I know his father Steve Grantham, a frequent reader of this blog with whom I trade a lot of good, insightful emails. Steve started out in the trucking industry as a driver in 1968 and drove until 1980. After a short two-year stint in the oilfields, where he met his wife Kelley, he went back to trucking until Justin was born. That‘s when Steve quit driving and took up a wrench to make a living - steadily working his way up the ladder to his current position as a maintenance supervisor for Allied Waste Services in Amarillo

“I became a mechanic and have no regrets because I was able to watch Justin grow up,” Steve told me. He said Justin joined the service right after high school with the intention of coming out and entering the trucking business as a mechanic.

“He is unsure at what point he will leave the service, but he has decided to go to a trade school and then get civilian experience when he does come out,” Steve said. “I think that he sees the life it gave our family and likes what his life was like at home.”

So here‘s a good kid, a smart kid (and I can call him a ‘kid‘ - I‘m 40 and thus officially ‘old‘ now as my own children constantly remind me!) who wants to be a truck technician. How do you go out and not only find military personnel like Justin, but also make sure they knock on your door when they decide to re-join civilian life - whenever that might be?

Truckload carrier Schneider National up in Green Bay, WI, has been working on this issue from a couple of different angles and it‘s worth examining what they‘ve been up to. In September this year, for example, they formed a public-private partnership with the U.S. Army Reserve - forging an alliance that allows the two organizations to recruit, train and employ individuals interested in both serving the nation and pursuing a career in the transportation and logistics industry.

The agreement provides Army Reserve soldiers opportunities for employment with Schneider after they successfully complete their military occupational training (MOS) and also allows the Army Reserve and Schneider to work together to recruit and train qualified soldier candidates.

Under this program, Schneider guarantees a job interview for all qualified, participating soldiers no later than 30 days after completing MOS training with the U.S. Army Reserve. In addition, Schneider will give priority placement consideration to qualified Army reservists. In turn, the Army Reserve will advise soldiers of Schneider driver, office, maintenance and warehouse career opportunities

"This innovative human capital strategy is good for Schneider National, good for the Army Reserve, good for our soldiers and their families, and good for America,” noted Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, chief, Army Reserve, and commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command.

“This program is truly a win-win-win scenario for reservists, the U.S. Army and Schneider National,” said Tim Fliss, Schneider‘s executive VP-human resources. “It provides American soldiers with great career opportunities near their reserve unit, allowing for more stability in their careers and lives ... and Schneider wins because the company‘s job vacancies are filled with quality employees who are well-trained soldiers.”

It‘s a no-brainer for Schneider on another level as well, for roughly 25% of its workforce has a military-related background - something that may also help attract future workers from the service.

Schneider also joined with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs back in July to create a special “Veterans Owner-Operator Program” to provide former military personnel with the training, mentoring, financial incentives and purchasing power necessary to become owner-operators.

Under this program, Schneider offers veterans the opportunity to have their training subsidized, using their G.I. Bill benefits to cover the cost of commercial driver‘s license training at Schneider‘s driver training academies. In addition, Schneider will work closely with vets to provide technical support so they will be able to become owner-operators six months sooner than prospective owner-operators with no military background.

Whether you like or dislike Schneider National here is not the point [though you‘ve got to give them some big props for what they‘re doing in support of our military service personnel.] It‘s that they are working hard - usually hand in glove with U.S. military agencies or departments - to get a leg up on recruiting service men and women into the company. Remember, despite the economic meltdown around us, the trucking industry is still projected to be short nearly 100,000 drivers alone by 2014. That‘s a pretty big order to fill. But it can be filled indeed - if carriers start building a pipeline today to attract the right type of workers they‘ll need for tomorrow.