The trucking industry is all about its people. For nearly 30 years, Donna England, VP of safety and member services at the Tennessee Trucking Association, has been developing relationships with those within the industry, meeting new faces and staying connected with long-time industry veterans.
For 21 years, England worked for R.E. West Inc., a middle Tennessee-based trucking company, where she worked in multiple areas from human resources to recruiting to safety, became a certified third-party tester, and road tested truck drivers hoping to get their commercial driver's license (CDL).
“It was always a highlight to be able to get out there and road test those drivers, knowing that you’re helping them make their start in the industry and into a good career,” England said. “Truck drivers can make really good money, but now the driver shortage is, I think, worse than it’s ever been.”
When England first began her career in the trucking industry, it was “primarily male dominated,” she said.
“Some people, when I first started, didn’t believe that the woman’s place was behind the wheel of a big truck,” England explained. “In fact, I once attended a seminar from Liberty Mutual, our insurance carrier at the time, to participate in a weeklong defensive driving course in Massachusetts, where I was the only female in the class of about 20 males. We did maneuvers with our skid pads, dropped the wheel off, got the truck back under control, locked the brakes and spun in a circle, etc.
“On the last day of the seminar, a man from New Jersey came up to me and said, ‘I want to shake your hand.’ As we shook hands he said, ‘I just want to tell you that I never thought a truck was where a woman needed to be, but after watching you out here on the skid pad, seeing how you handled yourself in that truck, from now on, I will definitely have a different opinion of females driving the truck.'"
But the trick is how to get more people into the truck? England believes it’s not that simple.
“It’s going to take us thinking out of the box and doing things differently than we've ever done before,” England explained. “We've got a lot of truck drivers retiring that didn't mind being away from home and knew that it was part of the job, leaving their families for a week or 10 days at a time. I don't think that our younger generation is going to want to do that. So, what do we do to entice this younger generation, to get them in our industry? We have to be creative.”
England cited the work that American Trucking Associations (ATA) is doing to start getting candidates right out of high school.
“I think that we lose them when we don't get them right out of high school,” England explained. “If we don’t get them out of high school, they're already 21. They've been to a technical school, they’ve been to college, and they're off on a different career path. They don't think about trucking because they think they can't do it, that they can't do over the road trucking. At that point, we lose them. And then we don't get them back in our industry until they decided that they're going to have a career change, which is usually in their 30s or 40s.”
To England, the trucking industry has great opportunities for anybody who wants to start a great career.
“There are all types of careers available within the trucking industry,” England explained. “A person trained in information technology can find opportunities at many companies, as well as customer service professionals, sales representatives, etc. There are so many different fields within our industry that there is always something for everyone.”
England credits the inclusivity of trucking to its network of people within the industry.
“What I love about our industry is the amount of those who are willing to share and help you get involved,” England said. “All of our members help others get heard, and while they might be competitors, they are still willing to share and help each other.
“You meet a lot of great people in this industry,” England added. “Over the years, I’ve made lifelong friends by being involved. Not just within the Association and at the Trucking Association state level, but by being involved in other associations, such as ATA, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, Women In Trucking, etc. Those are great resources to start finding your network.”