April 3, 2017 1:45 AM, EDT

Trucking Executives Discuss How Millennials Are Shifting Industry’s Workforce Dynamics

Brenny by Ari Ashe/Transport Topics

This story appears in the April 3 print edition of Transport Topics.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As baby boomers retire, more companies are hiring millennials to be truck drivers, presenting new challenges to address the differences between the generations in how they view life and work.

In general, millennials are born in the 1980s and 1990s. Notable events in their lifetime include the shooting at Columbine High School, the September 11 terror attacks and the recession of about a decade ago.

“According to Pew Research, millennials are the first generation not to include work ethic or moral values in their top five. But it doesn’t mean millennials don’t work because you can’t paint everyone from the decade with one brush stroke,” said Susan Berg, futures process expert at the Highline Practice. She spoke on a panel at the 2017 Truckload Carriers Association conference here.

“We do know they have overprotective parents,” Berg said. “We know the stories of helicopter parents. Everybody gets a trophy, which results in entitlement or superconfidence and a lot of millennials not being terribly resilient to negative feedback.”

However, Berg added that millennials work well in team settings and perform better when they understand how their job helps to accomplish a bigger purpose. They also excel when they can participate in the discussion about the direction of their jobs.

“People do what they create. If you invite me in as part of the advisory council to create the policy and be part of what we’re creating, it’s much more likely that I will do it because I was part of creating it. You heard my voice,” Berg said.

Joyce Brenny, president of Brenny Transportation Inc., said that treating her drivers as people, rather than numbers, increases satisfaction and reduces turnover. The St. Joseph, Minnesota, flatbed carrier operates about 60 company trucks.

“This generation loves to work in teams, and they’re not all about having the high-powered job; they are really driven to serve,” Brenny said. “Get them involved in community service projects that your company does, make sure they know what service your freight is providing to other human beings. It really engages them in the process of your company’s mission. Build upon what you do because this industry is great.”

Karen Smerchek, president of Veriha Trucking Inc., told Transport Topics that millennials already are part of the trucking community. She said diversity is important in a workforce, whether it’s male or female or baby boomers, Generation X and millennials. The Marinette, Wisconsin, dry van carrier operates about 250 company trucks.

“Someone who has been with your company for 20 years has a wealth of knowledge, and that person needs to be willing to share the knowledge with the millennial. The millennial wants to take that knowledge in because they want to learn, and learn quickly,” Smerchek said. “We’ve been quite successful in attracting and maintaining those staff.”

She said that it’s also important to allow millennials to move around in the company and keep communication lines open when it appears that they get bored. For example, she talked about a 27-year-old male driver in her company who is now a trainer.

“He’s doing a great job because he’s got a clear career path,” Smerchek said. “Whether it’s in the office or the truck, you need to provide them with new opportunities or responsibilities. This person is taking on a new mission of wellness with the drivers. He loves the company, and he is taking on a mission we believe in deeply and works with other drivers to be healthy.”

Despite the differences, Berg wanted to remind CEOs at the conference that what unites the two generations is greater than what divides them. She urged the executives to get to know the employees as individuals rather than react based on general stereotypes and to build diverse teams with members of difference generations.

“The conversation about millennials being different is, in some ways, hype,” Berg said. “Let’s remember, what we want out of work is the opportunity to work, to contribute and to form a connection because we’re all human.”