The moves that trucking companies should be making to retain women as fleet drivers was the theme of a recent industry survey.
Keera Brooks, Sawgrass Logistics' president and chief executive who led the survey, said it was a pressure test for an industry that needs to consider how women are valued in their operations.
The perception of safety on the road among the responding drivers was a prominent finding in the survey. Drivers were asked about their personal safety at truck stops and the reliability of their rigs. On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10, on how safe they feel on the road, the participants responded with an average score of 4.4.
Conducted by industry group Women In Trucking, the survey asked drivers for its 137 member trucking companies -- among them, Arkansas-based J.B. Hunt Transportation Services, ABF Freight, CalArk, Maverick Transportation and FedEx Freight -- a variety of questions to explore how women started driving trucks and what their careers were like.
A key question in the survey was how likely industry employees were to recommend a job in trucking to their friends or family members. Brooks said most of the men surveyed would recommend a career in trucking, but only 11 percent of women would recommend it. According to other studies, the vast majority of new drivers are introduced to the job by a relative or friend.
"[This] means we need to make a better environment for female drivers," said Ellen Voie, president and CEO of Women In Trucking.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, roughly 6 percent of the 3.5 million truck drivers are women. Of the 190,000 transportation supervisors, about 21 percent are women. During a national shortage of truck drivers and persistently high turnover rates, Voie and Brooks say, women are another untapped labor resource for an industry that is mostly white and male.
"We cannot keep going to the same well to find talent," Brooks said. "You are missing out on a huge opportunity."
The American Trucking Associations' chief economist, Bob Costello, keeps the industry up to date with projects for future driver needs. And the National Transportation Research Institute monitors the issues that most concern the industry. Right now, the driver shortage tops the list. But a review of the trucking research landscape will show relatively few have investigated solutions for the driver shortage, according to Stay Metrics, one of the analysts starting to delve into the issue.
"We are doing our part to make a contribution," said Stay Metrics marketing director Mary Malone, "but it takes a while for research to marinate."
That's why Brooks and Voie call their survey the first of its kind, and say they will continue to build on the data in future years, asking more in-depth questions each time.
"We as an industry need to start to look at alternate options," Brooks said. "We can find a good part of our answer in women. But we have to open our minds to that, and we have to make some changes to the way we do business."
Business on 12/20/2017