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Trucker Shortage Set to Double Spurs Industry to Recruit Women

Women have steadily been making inroads into industries dominated by men—and long-haul trucking could be the next one to see its ranks swell with the fairer sex.

Advanced Training Systems, a maker of virtual simulators for motor vehicle operators, cites data from the American Trucking Association (ATA) projecting that the current driver shortage is set to double in the decade ahead. Noting that the long-haul sector “has been hit the hardest,” the firm’s CEO John Kearney said many domestic firms are hoping to mitigate the looming crisis by “widening their recruiting efforts to include a segment of the population they have long ignored—women.”

The numbers show there’s plenty of room for improvement on that front. Female truckers represented 6.6 percent of the industry last year, a scant increase over the 4.5 percent who were behind the wheel back in 2003, per ATA data.

And according to the ATA, the shortfall of qualified drivers is “really a problem for the entire supply chain as 71.4% of all freight tonnage is moved on the nation’s highways.”

Some players are throwing money at the problem in an attempt to attract talent. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, reportedly compensates its drivers in excess of $87,000 annually, far higher than the industry median of $44,000 reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Money might pique women’s interest but that does little to quell concerns over the long stretches of time away from their homes and families, their personal safety being among the few women at truck stops packed with men, and trucks often seen as hard to maneuver and uncomfortable to occupy for hours on end.

But if legislation like what’s in development by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kans., is successful in its goal of promoting “more women in the trucking industry,” an influx of female drivers could spell a transportation sector safer not just for truckers but for the motorists who share the nation’s highways. That’s because female truckers are 20 percent less likely to be involved in a crash, according to research conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute that looked at the track record of men versus women in the industry.

The same study also found that women are 45 percent less likely to achieve logbook violations and 60 percent less likely to violate hours-of-service agreements that stipulate how long a driver must be off duty before taking to the road again.

“The industry as a whole wants to become a better place for women to work,” Kearney said. Female-focused groups like Women in Trucking, for example, have offered self-defense classes at no charge to give women tools to protect themselves when out on the job “in light of the #MeToo movement last March,” Advanced Training Systems noted.

And according to Kearney, simulator technology like the one his company offers “bears out what we’ve been saying for a long time: it should be mandatory for the whole industry, just as it is for pilots.” Automatic transmission makes trucking easier and more manageable for everyone, he added.

“There’s a lot more to do, but we are committed to making trucking a profession a woman can successfully start with and stay with,” Kearney said.

However, technological changes sweeping the industry could throw these recruitment efforts into chaos. Myriad startups from Kodiak Robotics to TuSimple are piloting their self-driving trucks and advancing the capabilities of driverless systems that could displace thousands of long-haul professionals from their jobs.

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