‘Old School.’ That’s an expression you hear quite a lot in the trucking industry.
It refers to the drivers that have been trucking for their whole career. Driving is a heritage for these folks. They started by washing trucks, then loading trucks, then driving delivery vans, then a single-axle straight job, then a tandem straight job before graduating to a day cab and then a highway unit.
They bumped a thousand docks or more before they ever saw an open stretch of highway let alone a mountain grade in the dead of winter. Many things grew from that experience: skill, confidence, camaraderie, teamwork, pride in their profession, and a deep cultural connection to the trucking lifestyle. In return, truck drivers received something we all want: Respect.
The knights of the road. Some folks in this business are of the opinion that old school drivers are a dying breed.
It was their work ethic and pride in their vocation that built this industry. Those are the two qualities that define ‘old school’ in my mind. Those are also the two most important attributes new drivers require that will shield the trucking industry from the impending driver shortage and allow the industry to adapt to the rapid technological change currently underway.
If we think of old school drivers as a dying breed, I think our profession is in serious trouble. I think the industry needs to find a way to bring the mentorship that existed in the past back into the loop. Skills training alone isn’t enough. Forty hours in the cab learning how to maneuver, jam some gears, and back up between some barrels does not a truck driver make. I know. I am a product of that approach with only 12 years experience under my belt. It was the year following my initial driver training that developed my sense of pride in my new craft. I teamed with an owner/operator for that year. I often think of that period as my apprenticeship. It started me off on the right foot. I have never looked back and I have never stopped learning.
I think this is the best argument that can be made for recognizing truck driving as a profession, for an advanced apprenticeship program, and a progressive graduated licensing system for commercial drivers. I know many of you may balk after reading that, but ask yourself where those old school truck drivers came from? They were attracted to a career they saw as a profession and a desirable lifestyle.
They were mentored, for a number of years, by experienced drivers. They were taught to crawl before they could walk and to walk before they could run. Training was thorough and gradual and possessed a depth far beyond anything that is practiced today. It fostered loyalty, commitment, skills, and a deep sense of responsibility in all aspects of the job. That’s old school. That’s professional training. That’s apprenticeship.
So ‘old school’ actually describes a way of life and a set of values -not an individual. It really is a shame when we think of drivers that possess these qualities as a dying breed. That is a sad commentary on the trucking industry in general. We should be building on those values and passing them down along with the skills training to the next generation of drivers just as has been done in the past. I believe this is the issue that lies at the core of driver recruitment, driver productivity, driver morale, safety and compliance.
I have said a number of times that I believe technological growth is exponential and will continue to bring rapid change to how we do things. I’ve also said that adapting to those changes is difficult for us to do at the same rapid pace. When we find a comfort zone, we like to stay within it. We especially don’t adapt well when we are forced to change against our will. Our immediate reaction is to fight that change.
I have found it interesting that it is the drivers that possess those old school values that are able to adapt best. They may complain about it and express an opinion that is against the changes, often for good reason. But in the end they always suck it up and get the job done.
Communication in the trucking industry today is dominated by a top-down approach. Leaders and shakers need to foster a bottom-up approach so that drivers can share their experience and put those old school values front and center where they belong.
Perhaps drivers will then find the camaraderie, teamwork, and respect back in their daily lives. As it should be. Never pass up an opportunity to share some time with an old school driver. You always come away richer for the experience.