Career Path: A Driver’s Story – Encouraging the Next Generation

July 12, 2010

A Driver’s Story – Encouraging the Next Generation

By David May

conway_webAfter graduating high school in 1976 I was living in an old steel/manufacturing town where there were few employment possibilities.  At that time continuing on to college just wasn’t an option.   I was 18 years old. I needed to decide what to do with my life. How do you know what you want to do when you’ve experienced so little?

My father ingrained in me simple but important qualities that you should always work hard and give a job your best effort.  Surely there were employers looking for workers with such traits. But what could I offer an employer? My father worked in a small family business alongside his 4 brothers.  The rest of my family worked in one of the large manufacturing plants.  There was no room in the family business, and the large plants were all in decline.

The only things at that time that interested me were truck driving and serving in the military.  If I wanted to enter a truck driving school, I would have needed to take out a loan.  Most employers wanted their drivers at a minimum age of 21. If I didn’t get a job in trucking how would I pay back the loan? If I entered the military, they would train me to drive a truck, and when my enlistment was up I would be 21.  So that’s the course I took, serving my country and being a truck driver in the military.

I came out of the service three years later, smack into a slumping economy. I decided to focus all my efforts on one employer that was hiring drivers.  I submitted 54 applications to this employer in hope for an opportunity.  Finally I got an interview and a road test.  While being tested, the safety manager told me he was impressed with my determination, and I got the interview because I always filled out a consistent application and never gave up.

I was so excited to get that job.  Not only did it alter my career, but it changed my life. It gave me purpose. It reinforced basic principles about respect, integrity, dignity, being accountable to yourself and others, and the value of an honest day’s work. It gave me confidence that I could achieve things I once doubted, such as owning a home and providing well for my family.

I have been a professional truck driver for 28 years now, and increasingly I ask myself, where will we find the next generation for our industry?  I realize that today’s young adults are different (Twitter? Facebook? Online everything all the time?) from my generation in lots of ways.  Yet many of them will come out of high school much like I did: unsure of their future, not knowing what options are available to them to shape it.  They will ask many of the same questions I did 28 years ago.

How do we attract them to the trucking industry? Simple. Just ask them. Take a page out of the past, invite them to join as an “apprentice” (when did you last hear that term) where they can learn and experience the profession through paid, on-the-job training.

That’s exactly what my company, Con-way Freight, has set up, and what I will be doing as a driver-training instructor in this new program. Apprentice drivers will be offered a part-time 20 hour week working on the dock to provide them with income.  The other 20 hours will be spent learning the industry’s rules, safety regulations and how to drive a truck – at no cost. When the candidate successfully completes the program, they’ll be offered the opportunity for promotion to full-fledged Con-way Driver Sales Representative.

This program is designed to do much more than fill the seats of Con-way Freight’s trucks.  When the student completes the program, not only will they have their Commercial Drivers License (CDL), they will have learned how to be CSA 2010 compliant – a requirement for the future. They’ll be among the best trained, safest and most knowledgeable drivers in the industry.

Many things have changed over my 28 years of trucking, but the need for good people has not.  Tomorrow’s drivers will have to be better and more knowledgeable than I was when I started.  I’ve learned a lot over the years, and as a driving instructor I hope to share that insight and experience with the young people who join our program.  For me, it’s time to “Pay it Forward” by giving back to an industry that’s given me so much.

David May is a driver-sales representative for Con-way Freight and works a city route for the company’s Buffalo, NY service center. A 28-year industry veteran, he is an America’s Road Team captain and a vocal advocate for the trucking industry, professional truck drivers and improving safety for all motorists on America’s highways.