Every driver brings a different perspective as to how this trucking life affects them today and how it has affected them in the past. I re-invented myself in mid-life as a trucker.
I wasn’t born and raised in this profession. So it was a privilege for me to sit down and shoot the breeze with a couple of drivers that cut their teeth as drivers driving B-model Macks in the early seventies. Our conversation wasn’t a trip down the memory highway, reliving the glory days of the past.
It was a conversation about the lifetime effects of trucking on the individual and where it leaves you as you end your career and move into retirement.
So I thought I would share some of the thoughts that came out of that discussion.
I’ve known both of these drivers for quite some time; for privacy, I’m just going to call them Joe and Bob.
Bob is now working part-time, about 40 hours per week (which is full-time in any other profession) and taking a couple of months each winter to head down south with his spouse. Bob is at the age of retirement and despite planning well financially is concerned about whether his self-administered savings and investments are going to last through retirement. Should he keep working?
This is a question faced by many drivers at retirement age. Can we afford to retire? But it is compounded by something else that weighs heavily on Bob’s mind. He talked about a phone conversation he recently had with his wife – he could tell there was something wrong by the tone of her voice.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” he asked.
“I’m just sitting here thinking this is another day that we’re not together and we’ll never get it back,” she replied.
We don’t often talk about the touchy-feely stuff in this macho alpha-male dominated industry. It was great to hear Bob express the deep abiding love he has for his wife and how heavily the separation from our loved ones affects drivers on a much deeper level as we age.
Joe added to that. After so many years on the road, you find yourself detached from your community. You don’t have close friendships outside the trucking community. It can be difficult to socialize with people that aren’t in your close circle of family. When you live on the road, you quickly lose touch with the people you may have grown up with.
Life on the road is about trucking and very little else. Where does this leave you when your trucking career ends? It is no wonder that so many drivers find themselves back on the road shortly after they retire. For a lifetime trucker, life is trucking and trucking is life. There is often not enough to fill the emotional void when a trucking career comes to an end.
Joe talked about how nothing is left at the end of a hard career like this. The cupboard is basically bare. There is no pension. There is no support system in place to make that transition from trucking to retirement.
After all the years of hard work, commitment and loyalty, should drivers not have an expectation of support from the industry?
The easy answer to this is to say that it is up to the individual to look after themselves. I disagree.
The trucking industry has been built on the backs of hardworking individuals and flourishes because of that ongoing commitment by those individuals.
The trucking industry could easily repay all that sweat equity by ensuring that drivers receive the training they need over the course of their career to plan for a smoother financial and emotional transition into retirement.
When I asked why drivers have not spoken up about these issues over the course of their career, the reaction from Joe and Bob was basically the same. We’ve always waited for someone at the top to fix it. The expectation has been that if you work hard you will be looked after. Not so, after all.
Both drivers are happy to see more women in the driver’s seat because they’re much more aggressive in taking a grassroots approach to bringing these problems to light, from poor working conditions to health issues, to driver compensation, to painting a true picture of what it is like on the road to deal with the stressors drivers face on a daily basis.
The conversation I had with these two drivers was not about trying to run the trucking industry down. Both of these drivers love this business and their jobs. It is their passion.
For the past few months I have been writing about leadership in the trucking industry. It’s a no brainer. If we want to attract, recruit and retain new blood for the driver’s seat we need to change how we treat people.
I believe it is that simple.
Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.