This ain’t your grandpa’s recruiting.

The trucking industry is less than 100 years old, but it has seen a lot of change in its short lifetime, with much of the change coming from shifts in technology (it surprised me to learn that some of the first commercial trucks were originally electric vehicles) or public policy.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is trucking’s need for professional drivers to haul America’s freight.
The demographic groups from which trucking attracts drivers have shifted significantly but the need remains and will for the foreseeable future.

Let’s look at truck driver demographics at three points in history. We’ll compare people in the 1930s (when trucking was in its teenage years, having been made a significant part of commercial infrastructure after the U.S. military proliferated the use of trucks in WWI), the 1980s (when trucking stabilized as an industry after the energy crises of the 70s and eventual deregulation under the Motor Carrier Act of 1980), and today.

Heavy Truck Drivers in the US

Number of Heavy Truck Drivers
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That’s right! The number of drivers per capita dropped by almost 30% between 1980 and today! This is partly due to the improved productivity of trucking over time and the introduction of new logistical approaches such as ‘just-in-time’ but we’re still facing a shortage of drivers in spite of these advances.

Where did they come from?

FarmerDriver

1930s

They were mostly farmers who hauled freight with their farm trucks to pay off debt.

FamilyDriver

1980s

They were mostly a family member of someone who was already a driver.

DriverTypes-Hats

2014

They are mostly long-time drivers with some new entrants from truck driving schools.

Who are they?

1930s Workforce

The New Worlders (born from 1871 through 1889, median member born in 1880) lived on farms more than any other American generation during the 20th century. They are known as New Worlders because about one of every four people in this generation immigrated to the United States.

Education

  • Completed less than high school: Men 84% / Women 82%
  • Graduated high school: Men 11% / Women 15%
  • Completed 4 years of college: Men 4% / Women 3%
  • Main Career Motivation: respect
  • Workplace Paradigm: task-oriented

1980s Workforce

The Baby Boomers (born from 1946 through 1964, median member born in 1955) nearly doubled the number of people to become the largest generation of the century. While baby-boomer men had problems finding jobs, women in this generation nearly matched men in education and made great strides in the career world.

Education

  • Completed less than high school: Men 13% / Women 12%
  • Graduated high school: Men 59% / Women 62%
  • Completed 4 years of college: Men 28% / Women 26%
  • Main Career Motivation: success
  • Workplace Paradigm: process-oriented
  • 2014 Workforce

    The New Boomers (born from 1983 through 2001, median member born in 1992) include almost as many births as the original baby boom and will add a larger share of new immigrants in adulthood than any generation since the New Worlders. They will become the largest generation of any living during the century. Most of their lives will take place in the 21st century, however, so we only get a few hints about them here.

    Education

    We are relying on Gen X data here—New Boomers aren’t old enough to collect adequate college data:

  • Completed less than high school: Men 14%/Women 11%
  • Graduated high school: Men 56% / Women 55%
  • Completed 4 years of college: Men 30% / Women 34%
  • Main Career Motivation: financial stability, time away from work
  • Workplace Paradigm: results-oriented
  • Moving Forward

    When you consider what it takes to be a good driver the differences between these generational workforces become more stark. What motivated earlier generations to enter trucking may not work with today’s candidates. One positive in reaching Gen X and New Boomers is truck drivers’ comparatively early adoption of mobile technologies for finding work and plotting routes. This behavior closely parallels the current and next generation’s openness to emerging technologies in contrast to their predecessors.

    The key to planning effective recruiting campaigns will be to segment prospects into multiple target audiences and then customize messaging to reach each audience uniquely. This approach, in contrast to broadcasting a single message to all audiences, ensures that each generational workforce will receive your message in the most positive light.

    Sources: