Amid a shortage of truckers, a push to add diversity to the force is paving the way for safety and mindset changes in the industry.
Josephine Copeland’s dream is to drive a long-haul truck.
At 49 and an empty nest, she came to Dudley’s Driving Center in Virginia to make her dream come true – and just in time.
According to the American Trucking Association, the truck driver shortage will hit industry highs in 2021.
One way to bridge the gap has been to find ways to add diversity, i.e. minorities. Young people and women represent only 7% of drivers.
Erica Denney of the American Trucking Association’s Women in Motion program says the first step is to get rid of the idea that trucking isn’t for women.
“There’s a stigma in the industry of white men, and that’s just not who we are anymore,” Denney said.
The second step concerns security.
“It’s an industry-wide issue,” Denney said. “But obviously if you’re a female truck driver and you come to a truck stop, they’ve run out of space and you go to the back where there’s no lighting – it’s dark, it’s far, it can be a bit daunting.”
The group is working with lawmakers to add more well-lit parking areas. ATA says its drivers are also actively working to change the status quo by recruiting in various fields.
“One of the studies we did, we focused on Baltimore,” said Nick Geale, vice president of labor and labor policy at the American Trucking Association. “The vast majority of people in these urban environments never hear of trucking as an opportunity, and our members haven’t necessarily focused on hiring in these places.”
Getting behind the wheel starts at driving school, with a written test and lots of practice. This is why there is also a call to add more diverse instructors: to provide a sense of community.
Emanuell Robertson became an instructor at Dudley to encourage others like him.
“I see it as helping the community escape that poverty…because it’s life-changing,” Robertson said. “It saved my life.”
A grandmother of the Dudley family, Sadie Belle Howell Dudley, opened a black-owned women’s driving school in 1959. Today’s Dudleys hope to offer these wide open spaces to a new generation of drivers as they expand with Virginia’s first black-owned commercial. driver’s license school.
“In some schools you go to, the atmosphere might not be as good,” said Thomas Dudley Jr., co-owner of Dudley’s Driving Center. “A lot of people were turned down when they didn’t even want to get a CDL because of the environment.”
Copeland says the environment and the mission to fulfill a dream is what brought her here.
“I love the road, and I just love the peace of mind of being in there all by myself,” Copeland said.