It’s well known in the trucking world that drivers are getting older and not enough younger ones are entering the ranks to replace all the ones who are retiring.
The turnover rate is bad for trucking executives, too, and the Arkansas Trucking Association is trying to do something novel to address the issue. The ATA named four college students — all of whom are majoring in supply chain management-related fields — to the association’s 40 Under 40 Council.
DeShawn Bradford and Skylar Hatfield of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and Daniel Hartigan and Brooklyn Hiller of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville have attended their first 40 Under 40 Council meeting. And, yes, they were given homework.
“We actually gave the students an assignment for the next meeting,” said Doug Voss of the Arkansas Trucking Association. “They’re supposed to think about what drew them into this field. We can learn from them.”
Adding college students to the council was Voss’ idea. Voss, who just turned 40, is a member of the ATA’s board of directors and the 40 Under 40 Council. He is also an associate professor of logistics and supply chain management at UCA, where he teaches Bradford and Hatfield.
“The main purpose of it is to get more students involved in the trucking industry,” Voss said. “That serves several masters. We need to get younger blood into the industry.”
Voss said when he talks with students about the trucking industry, he usually hears that they have no interest in driving a truck for a living. Voss uses that as an opportunity to enlighten the students, informing them that trucking is so much more than driving.
That is a lesson that Bradford and Hatfield probably don’t need. Voss said Bradford is set to be the third generation of his family in the industry, and Hatfield’s father, Loren, is almost certainly the most respected truck driver in state driving competitions.
“They get exposed to what the trucking industry really is,” Voss said. “It’s a fascinating field full of incredibly smart people. There has to be well-trained people to manage those truck drivers as well. We’re training our students to manage those drivers.”
ATA President Shannon Newton, 37, was named an Arkansas Business 40 Under 40 honoree this year and said having the youngsters in the meeting was an eye-opener. In good ways.
“We all think that we’re young — then you bring in some 21-year-old. We were like, ‘Uh, wow,’” Newton said. “They are all excited about the recognition and the opportunity to sit at the table with people they perceive to be successful in the industry they’re entering. We are figuring out that there is just as much for us to gain.”
The 40 Under 40 Council is currently chaired by Jeff Fleming, 39, who is the senior manager of transportation for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville. Fleming had not planned on a career in transportation until a chance meeting with a Wal-Mart recruiter while he was a student at Alcorn State University in Mississippi.
Newton and Voss hope that similar intentional outreach can bring more talented people into the trucking pipeline.
“Since folks don’t think about trucking, they don’t think about it as a field in which they can work,” Voss said.
If you want to know how college students think, it’s probably best for us old folks to just ask them. College only seems like yesterday for most of us.
The 40 Under 40 Council began in 2009 as a way to expose young executives to the work of the association. Adding promising college students is just an extension of that, Newton said.
“Our industry is struggling so much with workforce; it’s not just drivers,” Newton said. “It’s across the board. It’s everything. For us, it’s a chance to ask them ‘What do you think about transportation? What was your thought process in electing to major in logistics or transportation or something with an emphasis in trucking? How can we, as an industry, get more people to do that?’
“It’s another pipeline to educate people about what we do.”