How a doll named Clare is trying to help solve trucking’s labor shortage—by attracting women and girls to the field
Scroll through the @womenintrucking Instagram feed and you’ll inevitably stumble on Clare and her hashtag, #wheresclare. Clare checking tire pressure. Clare behind the wheel. Clare in the lap of a toddler-aged girl by the Christmas tree.
A truck driver doll with blonde hair, overalls and a white trucker’s hat, Clare is the brainchild of Women in Trucking, an organization founded by industry vet Ellen Voie more than 15 years ago to further the role of women in the trucking industry. Girls can buy their own Clare doll on the Women in Trucking site and follow along with Clare’s adventures via #wheresclare on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. “We have to tell women that they can do this and they are wanted,” says Voie, noting that shifting the message means reaching school-age children just as much as women already in the workforce.
WIT has also partnered with the Girl Scouts to make a transportation patch, plus a matching curriculum and activity book. Girls earn the patch by learning about the supply chain (grain planted on the farm, harvested grain to the bakery, bakery to packaging, packaging to warehouse, warehouse to a Girl Scout like you), and the trucking industry’s important role in that process, through the Girl Scouts’ cookie program. “So far 1,000 girls have earned that patch all over the country,” says Voie. “We are getting into their heads at an early age that they can do this.”
Truck driving has long been characterized as male-dominated, from branding to truck design to uniform fit. Now, as the trucking industry flounders in attempting to regain its footing amid supply chain disruption, a tidal wave of retiring drivers, and a winnowing talent pool, women are front and center in recruiting efforts for some carriers anxious to fill jobs and regain a modicum of growth.
Tra Williams, who owns and runs FleetForce Truck Driving School in Winterhaven, Florida, has made recruiting women a big part of his agenda. Having just purchased the 23-year-old FleetForce in September 2020, Williams is new to the industry. His background is in owning and running franchises. He says his skill set is a great fit for just what trucking needs: a rebrand. “Historically the industry has done a very poor job of controlling the narrative on what it means to be a professional driver,” says Williams. “Being a driver can be a key to freedom and autonomy during down times. Ninety percent of trucking companies in America have fewer than 20 trucks. Most of those are owned by a driver. There’s an element of entrepreneurship here that most of America doesn’t realize. It’s an empowering profession that gives you the tools to be your own boss. And if you’re not interested in that, you have the tools for incredible job stability.”
At the end of 2021, 22% of the school’s graduates were female, and Williams aims to move that number up to at least 25% by the close of 2022. “Carriers like having female truckers,” he says. “They cause fewer accidents, and they’re less likely to go into road rage.” Williams is quick to point to two juxtaposed stats: The industry needs 1.1 million drivers over the next 10 years to replace the 1,200 retiring every week in America; and less than 8% of all drivers right now are women. As a result, Williams says, trucking companies and driving schools across the country are starting to rethink how to create and stoke a new talent pool to solve hiring issues and reinvigorate the industry long-term. “There are 1,200 truckers retiring every week in America,” notes Williams.
Alix Miller is president and CEO of the Florida Trucking Association. She’s been working closely with Williams to shift the industry’s image, particularly across Florida and the Southeast. “We have to really understand and acknowledge the stereotype of trucking in order to change it,” she says. “It’s one of the key reasons I’m in this position. I’m not the stereotype of a person in trucking. We think of Smokey and the Bandit and these rough-and-tumble semi trucks. We have got to address that. We need an influx of new blood in the industry.”
A big part of the effort, Miller says, is helping smaller, family-owned carriers change their policies and ways of doing business, from technology to hiring. “Trucking titans that have been leading the industry for 30 years, they ran their businesses on pads of paper,” she says, noting that her own position as a female leader in the industry is just another step in the right direction. “Now everything is high-tech and new innovations are happening so quickly. There are a lot of opportunities right now.” Some driving schools are also using simulators to show students what it is like to drive a truck. The FTA, Miller says, has a road team that serves as industry ambassadors: speaking to students about the career path, sharing safety protocols, technological advances, and stories of what driving is really like. Advances like one-pedal operation, she says, mean stature, physical strength, and size don’t play the role in driving they did when all trucks had manual transmission. In addition, carriers that have options for regional driving (allowing for more nights spent at home) or have upped the ante on truck maintenance to prevent unexpected breakdowns (which might make women more nervous in terms of personal safety on the road) can all play into attracting female drivers.
For women like Vanita Johnson, truck driving has proven an incredible second life. At age 50, after 13 years in education and with her son now grown, she enrolled in trucking school. While she says job offers were plentiful at graduation, she set her sights on being an owner-operator. One childhood friend had been driving for years and offered to ride together while she gained confidence and experience, so she teamed up with him for her first year on the road.
Now, a year into the industry, the Atlanta-based Johnson owns her own truck and is getting ready to drive solo. She estimates that she pulls in close to $120,000, but since she owns her truck, her overhead is relatively high (fuel, mechanical costs, repairs, et cetera), making her take-home pay between $60,000 and $80,000. She has learned a tremendous amount about the industry in a short period of time, and she loves the freedom the career has allowed her to see the country, be her own boss, and make her own schedule. Johnson says she has lucked into a situation that works for her and enabled her to have a newfound autonomy: “I’m thankful I have my own company. I’m able to book my own loads and go the directions I want to go. I’m in control of my destiny.”
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