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December 11, 2014 6:00 PM, EST

Driver Demographics Begin to Shift

Training Schools, Statistics Show Uptick in Immigrants, Women
Houston Community College
By Rip Watson, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the Dec. 8 print edition of Transport Topics.

Changing demographics among new truck drivers are beginning to shatter the stereotype of an industry dominated by aging white males, fleet and training school officials said.

“What was once considered strictly a male-dominated industry is rapidly becoming extremely diversified,” Michael Herrin, general counsel for Truck Driver Institute, told Transport Topics.

“Truck Driver Institute has trained a significant number of driver candidates from Africa, the Middle East and Europe,” said Herrin, whose company has 12 school locations. Along with the increase in immigrants, more women and couples are enrolled as well, he said.

Robert Synowicki, executive vice president of Werner Enterprises, told TT, “We are hiring more women today and hiring more drivers from more ethnic groups” as the population of white males declines. Synowicki said the number of women has virtually doubled to around 10%.

The latest statistics from the Census Bureau and the Education Department illustrate the changes. Census statistics show that 73% of all commercial drivers are white and about 12% each are black or Hispanic. Less than 5% are women.

However, Education Department statistics, compiled from demographics submitted by schools, show 51% of those completing driving programs in 2012-13 were white, down three percentage points from 2009-10, compared with 28% African American and 12% Hispanic, which are both increasing. Eight percent are women.

Nationwide, non-Hispanic whites were 64% of the U.S. population in the 2010 Census, down from 69% a decade earlier.

“Because of the different demographics, we have created a lot of new opportunities,” said Werner’s Synowicki, whose company ranks No. 14 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the in the United States and Canada.

Martin Garsee, director of the truck driver training program at Houston Community College, noted a similar pattern, saying enrollment “has definitely gone up significantly with the ethnic population from virtually every corner of the world.”

“Now, there are people who are just now coming into our country,” Garsee said. “People are looking to better themselves. People can see truck driving can be a good profession.”

The influx of immigrants is a change from years past, he said, when students largely came from other fields, such as construction, after being laid off.

John Diab, president of New Jersey-based driving school operator Smith and Solomon, noted similar changes.

“We have seen a definite increase in the last two years in enrollment of minorities and women,” he told TT. “You will also see other ethnic segments that are entering the country enter the field.”

He said increased driver-friendly assignments with more frequent home time and investments in new technology and equipment are attracting drivers.

There are other signs of change.

Mark Greenberg, president of the New England Tractor Trailer Training School, said he has seen some shift toward a slightly older population, and more students for whom English is a second language.

Garsee said the average participant age has risen to late 30s from the early 30s at his school.

On the other hand, Synowicki said Werner’s fleetwide driver age dropped slightly to 42 from 43.

Joe Weigel, a spokesman for Celadon Group, No. 44 on the TT for-hire list, said the fleetwide driver remains in the late 40s, though students on average are 10 years younger, and 14% are women.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that truck drivers on average are 46 years old, four years above the median for the workforce as a whole.

“There are a lot of people changing professions,” Mark Brown, director of the Central Tech truck driver training program in Drumright, Oklahoma, said, citing the influence of pervasive advertising for CDL jobs.

“I think many of them are looking for the freedom,” Brown said, including couples who are seeking new careers after children leave home, as well as other professionals.

Rob Behnke, who heads the training program at Appleton, Wisconsin-based Fox Valley Technical College, agreed with Brown, about those seeking new careers, particularly couples.

Behnke said the cadre of students in their 20s is also growing.

Older students seek stability and higher income, while younger ones are attracted by new technology and the prospect of eventually moving from driving to other industry jobs.

“The trucking industry, like the country, is becoming more diverse every day,” American Trucking Associations spokesman Sean McNally told TT. “Now more than ever before, trucking is a merit-based industry. With CSA and other programs, good drivers will rise to the top regardless of race or gender.”

Strong freight markets also are fueling driver demand.

“We have seen a massive in-crease in the number of company-sponsored students,” as oil and gas exploration in the state has boomed and companies need drivers, Brown said.

The American Transportation Research Institute last week released a report labeling the aging of the driver corps “alarming.”

“The industry appears to be disproportionately reliant upon a single generation,” the report said, noting the percentage of drivers older than 45 rose to 56% from 43% over a decade. The under-35 age group shrunk to 21% from 27% over the same period, ATRI said.