Bridge the generation gap with some understanding

by Heather Blackwell Decker

Nothing demonstrates the need to reach out to a new generation of employees better than recently released data from the 2011 National Household Survey.

The average truck driver was found to be older than previously thought, at 46 years of age, and this is four-and-a-half years older than the average Canadian worker. Put another way, the trucking industry’s workforce is approaching retirement faster than expected, fuelling concerns about an impending driver shortage.

Generation Y, born between the late 1970s and 1990s, will obviously play a key role in any recruiting-related solutions. It is the largest demographic group of employees since the Baby Boom, representing roughly nine million Canadians depending on the ages used in the calculations, and it will be better educated and more diverse than any previous cohort.

The potential advantages do not end there. Generation Y is often characterized as quick to embrace strategies which make it possible to complete tasks more quickly and efficiently. While older drivers may have balked at tools like tracking systems, speed limiters and electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs), these tech-savvy employees will see technological innovations as important tools to reach key business goals.

But while it plays a key role in the search for future employees, Generation Y also represents a generation gap that needs to be bridged.

The trucking industry has traditionally placed the highest value on experienced workers who are 50 years of age or more, associating age with the quality of work. Those who fail to consider the value of younger workers may miss out on a number of opportunities and solutions.

There are several misconceptions which keep some employers from seeing the value of Generation Y.

While this demographic group is often labeled as having a sense of entitlement, for example, this same description has been applied to every generation that came before it (“These kids today …”). And suggestions these younger workers are lazier than earlier generations may simply fail to recognize that members of Generation Y place a greater emphasis on the quality of life. They refuse to wrap identities in careers after seeing modern economic realities destroy the promise of “jobs for life.” It is one of the reasons why they are more likely to focus on the opportunities to learn skills which can be transferred from one industry to another, as they chart personal career paths.

Not surprisingly, they also tend to look for compensation packages based on specific roles and the quality of work rather than a focus on seniority and age alone.

As important as financial compensation will always be, offering sudden shifts in pay packages can be particularly difficult in an industry like trucking, where profit margins are razor thin at the best of times. But these limitations can be offset by other compensation options which resonate particularly well with Generation Y. Workplace wellness programs, for example, can offset the cost of gym memberships that support the young generation’s interest in an active lifestyle and quality of life.

Meanwhile, training led by existing employees will certainly be valued by the newest additions to the trucking industry. Formal mentorship programs with well-trained instructors can steer the newest drivers in the right directions, encouraging learning through failure and successes alike, and supporting retention efforts.

A fleet’s commitment to social responsibility will also play a role in attracting and retaining the younger workers. Growing up in an era of social media, Generation Y places a significant value on the ideals of transparency and global awareness. Companies which adopt corporate sustainability programs – measuring environmentally friendly gains in the form of lower emissions, on top of other social commitments – will be particularly attractive.

But recruiting this generation of employees into the trucking industry as a whole presents an altogether different challenge. While their predecessors were often attracted by the promise of adventure on the open road, members of Generation Y often have the opportunity to realize these adventures in other ways. Coupled with their focus on quality of life, this might offer a significant advantage to fleets which can offer hub-and-spoke delivery models and more time at home.

Above all, the industry’s newest workers will want to have their voices heard, just like employees of any age, and they will remain on career paths when they can participate in a workplace that is transparent and honest.

I speak from experience. I am Generation Y, and I have seen what the trucking industry can offer.

– This month’s expert is Heather Blackwell Decker, risk services solutions analyst. Heather has seven years experience in trucking safety and compliance and now works within the Northbridge Insurance Risk Services team. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a long standing history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at

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