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Creating a coordinated campaign involving trucking company titans and state education officials to foster workforce development in the trucking industry is paying off for the Alabama Trucking Association.
Mark Colson, president and CEO of the Montgomery-based organization, started talking about workforce development within the industry when he joined the association in June 2019. He had past expertise on workforce development and soon learned about shortages in truck drivers and diesel technicians.
“In Alabama, trucking is 1 in 15 jobs, with over 110,000 working people in our state. We’re a top 10 trucking state, and we were spending zero dollars on any coordinated campaign to improve our workforce,” Colson explained. “Yeah, we complained about the problem of a shortage of drivers. We’re no longer sitting around a table complaining about a problem. We’re part of a solution, and we’re going to find solutions no matter what it takes because that’s what’s required.”
He looked throughout the country for a program to replicate and found none so he “really had to start from scratch.”
Working with its foundation created a year earlier, Colson led an effort to conduct research to create a more positive image of trucking that not only attracted potential workers but drove them to take action.
The result was the creation of personas — types of people more likely to become diesel technicians and professional drivers. Research indicated an entry-level driver was more likely to be an adventurer of any age who enjoys freedom on the road or someone about 38 years old seeking a career change or being unemployed. Findings also identified opportunities to recruit women, veterans and minority groups.
There are many reasons for trucking's ongoing labor shortage. We recap discussions from the first half of this year in this "roundabout" episode. Tune in above or by going to RoadSigns.TTNews.com.
The result was a branded campaign called “Careers in High Gear.” Messaging was developed showing the real faces of Alabama trucking “in what we believe is the best way to communicate with those personas to attract them to the industry,” Colson said. “Our objective is to tell these stories of the amazing men and women who are already working in our industry because they have some fantastic stories to tell, where they came from, how they got to where they are and how they’re serving the industry and the country.”
Using an advertising campaign in two target markets in northern and southern Alabama to attract job candidates, the association created a website (www.alabamatrucking.org/careers/) that contains links to educational training at three community colleges around Huntsville as well as a technical school and community college in Monroeville.
Grant Crabill is a master service technician who specializes in Cummins engines for FourStar Freightliner in Montgomery, Ala. (Alabama Trucking Association)
A spike in interest and applications has resulted in school programs along with a dozen other trucking-related workforce-initiatives.
“It’s something I’m passionate about and believe we’re going to make a big difference,” Colson noted. “What we learned is we’ve got something that we believe can move the needle over time.”
Partnering with educators led to innovative new online training curriculum for commercial driver licenses and diesel technicians that are now being offered.
Colson said another key step was support from trucking leaders who would help with financial backing.
“We needed the cream-of-the-crop trucking leaders in this state to be truly behind this effort, because if they’re not, it’s not going to succeed in the long run,” he added. “As a staff person, I just execute and create strategies, but the backbone of this has to be the employers.”
Alabama Trucking Titans became the brand for 38 “men and women who run companies, who are significant leaders across our state in our industry,” he said. Each made a three-year commitment of $5,000 per year to sustain the workforce initiative and support its efforts.
Colson said the association had “two huge successes” with Wallace State Community College in Hanceville by helping them secure a $1 million grant to implement an online diesel-by-distance training program that can be taken from anywhere in the state and a $1 million grant to pay 100% of the costs to educate women diesel technicians.
He is now exploring how to create a virtual reality career exploration pathway for professional truck drivers for students to explore when they go to career fairs. “Truck driving has never been an option. So we’re in the midst of creating that for students,” he said, adding that then career pathways have to be linked for interested students to find schools and resources to enter the professions.
Terry Kilpatrick, president of Billy Barnes Enterprises Inc. and chairman of the Alabama Trucking Association Foundation, has been working closely on the initiatives. His company is developing a CDL apprenticeship program with the state Office of Apprenticeship, Monroe County’s school board, Reid State Technical College and the local Economic Development Board.
For 18- to 21-year-old students, the program allows high school seniors to obtain a CDL learners permit during their last semester and then enter Reid State’s CDL program. Once a student obtains a CDL , Kilpatrick’s company will hire that student as an apprentice local driver and continue training with a driver mentor for one year from hire date. CDL apprentices already have been hired by Billy Barnes Enterprises.
“Attracting trained skilled workers is a necessity for any transportation company,” he said, noting that his company is short three to four diesel technicians but the initiative will help attract people to rewarding transportation industry careers.
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