Lockwood’s Blog: Looking to Pick Up Women

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When I look around and take stock of what this industry needs — what the entire world needs, for that matter — I see a monstrous waste of talent because women haven’t been allowed to play a role. In most cases it wouldn’t matter a bit if a given job were done by a man or a woman. Sometimes size matters, of course, and there probably aren’t too many female types who’d like to drag a tarp over a flatdeck load of steel in a muddy yard. Then again, most men don’t want that job either and lots of them couldn’t do it if they tried.

Sure, there are women in key roles here and there. I think of Jennifer Singer and Sherry Orr and Natalie Meyers who manage or lead companies, a bunch of others who run HR departments, and others still who fill roles of many sorts within the supplier community. But there aren’t enough of them.

And when you get to the steering wheel and the shop floor, the numbers fall off dramatically to nearly zero.

So I’m very pleased to see an effort to change things by way of a new national advisory committee led by Trucking HR Canada called SWIFT. That’s Supporting Women in Freight Transportation, a group that includes a cross-section of senior managers, directors, presidents, and other executive types.

Together, says a press release, they’re “committed to educating other women about careers in trucking, identifying challenges and barriers to their career paths, and promoting the recruiting and retention practices which support women in the workforce.”

Women represent a mere 3 percent of Canada’s truck drivers, technicians, and cargo workers, the organization tells us. They also account for just 11 percent of managers, 13 percent of parts technicians, 18 percent of dispatchers, and 25 percent of freight-claims, safety, and loss-prevention specialists. Yet women represent close to 48 percent of the total Canadian labor force.

I’ll add another perspective here, namely the observation that women in the executive and managerial ranks are far more likely to be in charge of HR or recruiting departments than the harder-edged functions like operations and maintenance. That’s what I’d most like to see change.

“While many gains have been made, women are still largely underrepresented in trucking-related careers,” says Angela Splinter, chief executive officer of Trucking HR Canada. “This challenge needs to be addressed as the trucking industry looks to ease an intensifying shortage of skilled workers.”

It’s not just drivers this industry needs, though that chronic shortage gets all the attention. There are opportunities, for both sexes, in every corner of trucking. All current research, says SWIFT, shows that labor shortages resulting from an aging workforce are particularly acute for the trucking sector. We have a lower percentage of young people and we’re below the national average in terms of employing women.

Trucking presents a “huge opportunity” for women, the new organization says, and it’s impossible to disagree. Especially in traditionally male-dominated occupations like technician and driver, including owner-operator.

SWIFT’s objectives are, first, to raise awareness among women of the various career opportunities that exist in trucking and to make employers aware of recruitment and retention practices that can better support the integration of women into the workforce. As well, it aims to develop practical tools to support connecting women with careers in trucking.

SWIFT’s first meeting, with a reception attached, will be held April 11 during our Truck World 2014 trade show in Toronto.

By the way, if you think the shortage of drivers in North America is unique, look across the Atlantic. In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, around 250,000 truck drivers will retire over the next 10 to 15 years, according to research by transmission-maker ZF Friedrichshafen. That’s 40 percent of all German truck drivers, but only about 10 percent of those jobs can be filled with young ones.

I’d suggest they start appealing to women over there as well.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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