I read with interest your excellent article highlighting college students’ participation at ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition in October in Austin. I am glad Transport Topics is covering this and informing industry leaders of the gold mine of talent at our fingertips. The mention of the students from Auburn who attended the conference hit a chord, as I was recently at a neighbor of Auburn’s — Tuskegee University — teaching a couple classes in supply chain. What an impressive group of students there.
I work in trucking and have for four decades, starting with loading trailers and progressing to carrier management and then to what most of my career has involved — consulting to small- and medium-size motor carriers. Trucking is an industry that caught my eye early in life and continues to invigorate me every day. I was a student in college who gravitated toward transportation and trucking, though few educational options were offered for this interest. I pursued an advanced degree oriented toward trucking and was guided by a wonderful professor, adviser and mentor who saw my passion. I was an “outsider” to my academic peers because of my career goals. The perception of trucking remains negative today.
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For many years I have participated with several universities teaching classes from time to time. I emphasize the vibrancy of trucking and the opportunity to have a fulfilling career where leadership roles abound. As I emphasize to students, this is an industry that combines problem-solving, interaction with a wide range of situations and people working together and a sense of accomplishment for a job well-done that affects thousands — if not millions — of people. As ATA has said for decades: “If you got it, it came by truck.” Nothing could be more true.
Unfortunately, there are challenges getting this message out. Yes, we have huge carriers serving the supply chain that offer opportunities to young people across a wide range of functions. However, the largest group of employers are small- to medium-size companies, all privately held and normally family run, where advancement and creative responsibility can be limited. Of course, this is characteristic within many industries, but complicating the challenge of recruiting bright, enthusiastic new blood is the stigma associated with trucks.
Even those in supply chain to whom I lecture respond apprehensively to this question: what comes to your mind when you pass a truck on the interstate? The most common answer, more than 50% of the time, from both men and women, is, “I’m scared.”
We have a tall hill to climb, but I am confident that if we approach it properly with open minds to new ideas, challenging responsibilities and an honest welcome mat, we can succeed.
Keep writing about this and convincing leaders of the industry to promote the positive careers trucking can offer. I certainly will.