Exclusive Feature: Recruiting the future of Alabama’s trucking workforce
By Alan Alexander
Alabama’s trucking industry has weathered its fair share of challenges, many of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet truckers continue to show their resiliency in keeping our trucks moving and our economy running.
Throughout its 80-year history, the Alabama Trucking Association has been there to help its members better navigate challenges – from helping pass legislation that keeps our industry ahead of the curve and providing services that ensure operations run safely and more efficiently to promoting a high level of professionalism within the many communities the trucking industry serves.
“Everyone in trucking knows of the challenges in our workforce, but the Alabama Trucking Association is not just going to talk about the challenge. We are going to relentlessly pursue solutions on behalf of our members. Whatever it takes, however long it takes.”
–ATA President and CEO Mark Colson
One of the greatest challenges for many of our members, especially over the past few years, has been recruiting and retaining qualified truck driver candidates into over-the-road and long-haul routes. According to the American Transportation Research Institute’s 2020 Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry report, a shortage of drivers ranked as the top national concern in the industry for the fourth consecutive year. On top of this, Alabama is also facing an acute shortage of qualified diesel technicians to maintain vehicles and equipment.
“Everyone in trucking knows of the challenges in our workforce,” says ATA President and CEO Mark Colson, “but the Alabama Trucking Association is not just going to talk about the challenge. We are going to relentlessly pursue solutions on behalf of our members. Whatever it takes, however long it takes.”
There are several different factors that attribute to the driver shortage facing the trucking industry, and like any multi-faceted problem, the solution requires a multi-faceted approach.
To meet this challenge, a strategic partnership has been formed through the ATA Foundation with Markstein, a creative communications agency based in Birmingham that specializes in workforce development, to launch a public relations and advertising campaign aimed at increasing the number of people interested in pursuing a career as a commercial truck driver or diesel technician.
“As we began digging into this project, it became clear we would need a partner to help us keep a long-term strategic focus,” Colson says. “The talented team at Markstein has a proven track record, and in a short period of time, we have made tremendous progress.”
The first stages of the partnership began last November. Markstein took a research-first approach gathering data to create a foundational view of the current workforce and educational landscape within Alabama’s commercial trucking industry. The firm also conducted one-on-one interviews to uncover internal perceptions about the industry and analyzed preliminary audience segments to better understand the demographic makeup of these audiences across the state.
Using this information, Markstein developed target audience personas for the truck driver and diesel technician positions and assigned motivators that influence these audiences’ decisions to pursue a commercial trucking career.
The goal of the campaign is ultimately focused on funneling more applicants into the state’s 15 CDL and nine diesel technology community college training programs so that our industry is receiving highly trained drivers and diesel technicians. But to accomplish this, it is imperative to first address the external perceptions about the industry – especially the truck driver and diesel technician fields – and boost awareness about the great benefits and job potential of beginning a career in commercial trucking.
Taking the results from the research, Markstein will develop and launch the campaign, which will include a mix of advertising, public relations and community engagement outreach strategies that are designed to resonate with each target persona and equip educators in the community with the resources necessary to spark career interest at a pivotal age. The campaign will be rolled out in phases, starting at a small scale within a few areas of the state as a pilot phase before ramping and expanding across Alabama.
These workforce development campaigns are a long haul, and the results of the work will not fully manifest until a few years after the campaign has begun. That is why it is increasingly imperative to begin these efforts now.
Colson believes the trucking industry’s most important resource is a skilled workforce.
“It’s the foundation for the future,” he says. “No one is coming to fix this problem for us. It’s our responsibility as industry leaders to stay committed to this cause and never give up. I’m proud of our ATA Foundation and ATA Board of Directors for meeting this challenge head-on.”
By dispelling misconceptions about the industry and building career interest in both young people and those who are either unemployed or underemployed due to the pandemic, we can begin building a pipeline of talent that will increase the field of quality candidates for all our members.
Alan Alexander is an account manager with Markstien. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
ATA senior advisor Ford Boswell contributed to this report.