If life had turned out differently, Julie Mills might be happily teaching third graders in Cumberland County, New Jersey. As many truck drivers can attest, however, our lives don’t always follow the path we plan.
Mills is still using the knowledge and skills she acquired while studying for a teaching career, but instead of teaching school, she’s using those skills to keep drivers safe. Mills serves as the director of safety at Camden, New Jersey-based NFI Transportation. She’s also Women in Trucking’s June Member of the Month.
Mills came to trucking like many others do. She graduated with a Master of Education from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey, but because of cutbacks in the state’s school system, some teaching positions had been eliminated and local schools weren’t hiring. She chose, instead, to look for work in nearby Camden, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The job hunt led her to a safety analyst position at NFI.
“I was completely surprised,” she told The Trucker. “I fell in love with NFI and with safety.”
Because Mills was new to the trucking industry, she had a lot to learn.
“I knew nothing about the trucking industry or the job of truck drivers,” she said. “I’ve learned so much.”
Her work in safety helped her identify issues with the company’s onboarding process; at the time, it took three weeks or more to hire a new driver. She spearheaded a pilot program at NFI that reduced onboarding time by two-thirds, helping the company keep its fleet moving in a market where drivers are hard to come by.
Mills continued to progress at NFI, rising to her current position. She says her job keeps her busy.
“Honestly, I don’t have a lot of free time, but I’m blessed to be in this career,” she explained. “This is my hobby. I enjoy this every day.”
Part of her day at NFI is spend reviewing video recorded by the Lytx DriveCam system used in NFI vehicles.
“I’m a huge supporter of the video system,” she said. “I’m reviewing video all the time, and I see what our drivers encounter.”
In some cases, the videos reveal training opportunities for drivers. Mills explained, “I really feel like I am using my teaching degree. So much of the safety role involves training and assessment; I’m teaching every day.”
A part of Mills’ knowledge comes from the ride-alongs that NFI requires for its safety personnel.
“They are required as part of the training,” Mills said. “It was a huge eye-opener. You never know what a driver will encounter day by day.”
Another part of her daily activities, which Mills says is just as important as working with drivers, is communicating the safety message to other departments at NFI, such as operations. She makes it clear that everyone in the company plays a part in safety.
Mills joined the Women In Trucking organization last fall, after the group selected NFI as a Top Company for Women to Work for in Transportation in October. The company was selected from 150 entrants.
“I try to read all the literature and keep up with the issues,” Mills said, adding that she’s familiar with a local group. “We actually have a group, ‘NFI Women In Trucking’ that sends representatives to WIT events. I’m looking forward to going.”
Mills also discussed an NFI initiative to increase recruitment of women for the company’s driving fleet.
“We had a ‘She Drives’ campaign to provide recognition to our women drivers,” she explained. The marketing campaign, developed with input from NFI women drivers, showcased the abilities of women in their driving fleet with a series of videos that can be found on YouTube. The successful program helped bring more women to drive at NFI.
When she isn’t working, Mills enjoys going to the gym near her Marlton, New Jersey, home and spending time with her family.
“My family has been extremely supportive of me and my career. I enjoy spending time with them when I can,” she said.
She’s a fan of Philadelphia sports, too, and basketball is her favorite. “Go Sixers!” she cheered.
Mills also participates in volunteer work sponsored through NFI, such as working food lines for homeless people in the community.
“We volunteer at NFI,” she said. “NFI is a great company.”
Whatever she’s doing, Mills keeps her focus on safety.
“Safety comes in a ‘can,’” she says. “I can, you can, we can be safe. That’s something I try to live every day.”
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.