Lauren Domnick's picture

May 24, 2017


Lauren Domnick

Director of Analytics & Modeling

In one of the most memorable movie scenes of the past 40 years, young Luke Skywalker pilots his X-Wing Fighter through a narrow trench in the Empire’s Death Star, trying to use his advanced targeting system to find the tiny vent through which he has to deliver a couple rounds from his fighter’s blasters to stop the obliteration of the planet Alderaan. Just then Luke heard the words of his (presumably) dead mentor Obi Wan saying “Use the Force, Luke.”

Luke does, and the rest is cinematic and intergalactic history.

Now, if only the Force were as good at finding and hiring young people to work in the trucking industry.

Indeed, attracting Millennials to the cabs of this nation’s big, over-the-highway rigs and smaller, local and regional trucks may be the single hardest thing to do in the trucking business today. It’s even harder than attacking that one, tiny weakness in the Death Star’s design.

Less than five percent of commercial truck drivers today are part of the Millennial generation; those born between 1982 and 2004. And the numbers aren’t much better for Millennials working in other parts of the trucking industry — from the loading docks to the sales offices, and from the dispatch and planning groups to corporate finance. Even in trucking firms’ IT departments, there aren’t nearly as many geeky-smart, young adults working as one might expect.

And that obvious absence of Millennials from an industry with a workforce that is becoming more technologically reliant and rapidly aging is a big problem. Estimates going into 2017 placed the nation’s shortage of drivers at between 100,000 and 150,000, and that number could grow to more than 220,000 by the year 2024 if current trends continue. Meanwhile, the average U.S. truck driver is 49, and a quarter of them are 55 or older. That’s a particularly concerning number because, historically, drivers are far less likely to continue working all the way to age 65 because of the physical strain on their bodies and overall health. There are also psychological, emotional, and family strains that accompany a job that involves long hours and many days and nights each month away from home. 

Meanwhile, the two major forces that are pushing the driver shortage issue into the red zone — growing demand for the millions of items delivered by trucks and new penalties for drivers caught exceeding the number of hours they are allowed to work during any 24-hour period — show no signs of letting up anytime soon.

To attract millennials, talk tech.

So the problem for most, if not all, trucking and trucking support companies is: How do we attract Millennials — lots of them — to jobs that, in their eyes, lack prestige, great work-life balance and good pay, and which don’t appear to be very hip either technologically or socially?

Clearly, recruiting tactics need to be changed. And that begins with gaining an understanding of who Millennials are and what excites them. And that revolves around technology. Millennials grew up thinking of the trucking industry as an old-school, uninteresting, unsophisticated business that offers little of interest to people who can’t recall ever not having a cell phone or multiple computers in their house. Those in the trucking industry are keenly aware of how that old stereotype is giving way rapidly as the drive to better manage costs and improve both service and operational performance is driving the industry to become smarter and far more tech-driven. But Millennials don’t necessarily know that. 

It’s also critical to tell younger recruits that even though driving is a job that could potentially have them away from home, many carriers are recognizing that shouldn’t mean drivers have to do without the comforts of home. Some carriers are adding things like satellite TV service to their cabs. Others are using mobile technology that can be detached from the truck. So, that tablet drivers are using to monitor hours of service and truck performance and keep in touch with dispatchers can now go into the truck stop with them and not keep them tied to the truck to learn if they might have a new load. 

So industry leaders not only need to learn how to demonstrate the industry’s new sophistication and technology-focused future but also how to talk to Millennials in a language that resonates with them. They likely don’t know what a “CDL” is, or how to calculate what their pay will be when they’re quoted a per-mile pay rate rather than an hourly rate.

Nor are they looking for driving jobs in all the “normal” places where trucking companies traditionally have advertisements. Instead, they’re spending lots of time on Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, interacting with thousands of people, only a few of whom they may actually know. And little of that time is spent looking for a job or a career. So trucking companies have to figure ways to use today’s most popular social media channels to capture the attention and imagination of Millennials. (Note: Millennials haven’t entirely abandoned Facebook, but they spend less and less time on it every year now that the social media channel has become dominated by their parents, baby boomers, and commercial interests).

Talk to Millennials where they are.

Thus, trucking companies need to focus much more of their recruiting budgets and efforts on finding Millennials where they’re most likely to be found — in social media channels.

And they need to carefully construct a new message aimed at tech-savvy and socially minded Millennials who are far less likely than those from previous generations to be attracted to the “romanticized” life of the solitary driver spending days and days essentially working alone. Millennials need to know that tech-enabled advancements in scheduling, dispatching, and operations are helping to reduce the number of nights drivers have to stay away from friends and family. 

Technology in and of itself is not enough to solve the industry’s problems in recruiting younger drivers and other workers. But technology, in all its many facets, can and should play a central role in solving that problem. While drivers with 30 or 40 years behind the wheel may see new trucking technologies as a nuisance, a mystery, or even a threat, the Millennials who inevitably must take those soon-to-retire older drivers’ seats are likely to be drawn to the industry, at least in part, by the opportunity to work in a tech-savvy industry and with companies that demonstrate a serious commitment to operating as cutting edge 21st Century transportation and logistics companies.

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