Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bloomberg Business reports on women truckers as one answer to driver shortage

Wednesday, September 2, 2015
This picture of Werner driver Felicia Berggren ran with Bloomberg's article on women drivers.
This picture of Werner driver Felicia Berggren ran with Bloomberg's article on women drivers.

Bloomberg Business has taken a look at women truck drivers and reported that they’re not only a partial answer to the truck driver shortage, “They’re proving to be better behind the wheel than men.”

And Women In Trucking (WIT) Association was proud to sit up and take notice, including the story in one of their e-mail updates.

Bloomberg mentioned WIT member Stephanie Klang, 57, who used to drive in a team with her former husband. She told the new service that she’s on the road alone for up to five weeks and lives out of her truck with her cats as companions. “We’re more patient,” she was quoted as saying.

The news story also quoted Werner Enterprises Inc. Chief Operating Officer Derek Leathers as saying women were outperforming their male counterparts. He expects women to make up about 10 percent of the freight hauler’s 9,000 drivers by year’s end. That’s almost twice the national average, he said during the Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference at the Great American Trucking Show at Dallas.

“It’s important to kind of rebuff the myths,” Leathers said. “They are winning in multiple categories across the fleet.”

Bloomberg said trucking companies see women as a large untapped labor pool “that may ease a driver shortfall that’s expected to grow to 400,000 by 2017,” noting that job-recruitment campaigns are being planned “targeting women by highlighting the industry’s increased salaries and updated fleets with new creature comforts such as larger sleeper cabs.”

 “We want to cast the net as wide as we can cast it,” Leathers said. “It’s an opportunity for the industry.”

Bloomberg also quoted the American Trucking Associations that women accounted for 5.8 percent of the 3.4 million U.S. truck drivers last year, compared with 4.6 percent in 2010. National safety figures don’t get broken down by gender, the group said.

Most of the female truckers at Covenant Transportation Group Inc. work in two-person driving teams, including some mother-daughter pairings, said Chief Executive Officer David Parker.

“They do a great job,” he said, and are proving to be more cautious and attentive behind the wheel. He said about 16 percent of the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based company’s 2,400 drivers are women.

More women are willing to go solo on the road, said Swift Transportation Co. COO Richard Stocking. He estimated that 6 percent to 7 percent of his 19,000 drivers are female, and about half of those drive alone.

Cleaner terminals, schedules that guarantee home time, automatic transmissions and safer truck stops have all been crucial to attracting and retaining female drivers, said Werner’s Leathers. The company is planning a campaign with print ads and radio spots to encourage more women to apply, according to Bloomberg.

“Most of us are looking for any viable source of new talent,” he told Bloomberg. “I don’t think we’ve done a good job marketing to women.”

Life on the road has gotten easier for women, said Klang, who drives a Kenworth big rig for Con-way Inc. When she started driving in 1980, there was no power steering, sleeper cabs were cramped, truck stops were dirty and crime-ridden and, worst of all, the showers were all located in the men’s bathroom.

“I’d have to get up at 2 a.m. and they’d close the men’s room for me,” said Klang, who lives in Joplin, Missouri. “Now, the showers are all private and clean.”

Her advice to women contemplating a behind-the-wheel career: “You will have down time in the truck,” she said. “Make the truck your home.”

Bloomberg talked to WIT, quoting Char Pingel, membership director for the group. “Freight companies, shippers and truck manufacturers also are paying more attention to women and their needs,” Pingel told the news group, adding that changes range from allowing pets in the cab to designing seats that are more adaptable to women to “no-touch” cargo that doesn’t require heavy lifting.

“Women don’t know they can do the job,” Pingel said. “It used to be burly truckers who endured without all the modern conveniences.”

People should expect to see more women behind the wheel of big rigs on the highway, and that’s a good thing, Werner’s Leathers said.

“Those drivers right now are driving safer,” he said, without providing specific details. “The stats are there. They do a nice job.”

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