Opinion

What The Truck? Why Are Millennials Passing Up High-Paying Trucking Jobs?

Smokey and the Bandit truck YouTube screenshot/Movieclips

James Merse Freelance Writer

There have been a number of articles reporting that millennials are passing up high-paying jobs in trucking. As someone who comes from a long line of blue collar men — including truckers — I find it a bit odd that millennials aren’t eating up the chance for six-figure income.

Two other trucking industry benefits that fall right in line with millennials are flexible hours and the opportunity for travel. There are many trucking jobs that are local and come with the ability to be home every night — perfect for raising a young family. For those with wanderlust, which is common amongst millennials, a job traveling the open roads — potentially cross country — seems like a perfect fit.

Combine these benefits with a strong average pay and it would seem like a no-brainer career choice for the average millennial, yet the industry is having issues filling positions.

Those familiar with me might ask what a millennial working a white collar job in healthcare knows about driving big rigs – and why does he even care?

The answer is simple: family legacy.

When my father was young, he worked for Merse Brothers Trucking, a trucking company in Edgewater, New Jersey owned by five brothers, including my father’s father.

Time went on and the company split up. My father went into business with a construction company that he has been with for decades now. The Merse family trucking company itself is still in operation today, with a small fleet out of Paterson.

My father still has a passion for classic Mack trucks and, come to think of it, he still owes me a Mack dog off the front of one his rigs.

When I see a classic R-Model Mack roaring down the New Jersey Turnpike or making the slow ascent up the hills of Route 23, I instinctually can’t take my eyes off of it, but I notice most of my friends don’’t share the same interest.

So what is stopping millennials from climbing up in a semi and hauling tail?

My interest in big trucks doesn’t qualify me as an expert on the industry by any means, so I reached out to a few people immersed in commercial truck driving to get some insights on the matter.

I found out that like any industry, the best trucking jobs aren’t as easy to come by as I was envisioning.

“In my experience speaking to younger drivers, the idea of having to begin their career in the industry taking on long hauls and over-the-road routes is an enormous turnoff to many,” said Jake Tully, Head of Creative Department, TruckDrivingJobs.com. “Many young drivers are under the impression that they can secure a local position right out of the gate. This is simply not going to be the case for most new drivers.”

“Like any industry, one has to work their way through the ranks before they can find that ideal position,” said Tully.

The idea of working one’s way up the ladder has transcended the existence of employment, and it’s very rare that a person just walks into the top spot of any job, fresh out of the gate. But is there another deterrent that hides at the bottom a bottle?

Millennials love to drink

According to Nielson, millennials of legal age account for 35 percent of beer consumption and 32 percent of spirit consumption in the U.S., despite only representing a quarter of adults over 21 years old. Furthermore, the Wine Market Council found that millennials consume 42 percent of all wine in the U.S.

“I deal with this problem everyday — both as a trucking company owner in Dayton, Ohio and as an elected member of the Dayton Board of Education,” Adil Baguirov of American Power LLC told me. “Not enough young people [are] interested or motivated to pass CDL driving tests, regular drug and alcohol tests, [or] keep drivers logs, etc.”

Many of my friends are thankful that I’m always the designated driver, and I’m spoiled over it: a few bucks for gas and parking, choice of music for the trip and usually my meals are covered.

But if I’m being honest, I never really noticed just how saturated my peers are in alcohol (and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all).

From young offices touting team happy hours and office bar carts to wine-by-mail delivery services, to meeting one’s next Tinder crush for cocktails at the local bar, millennials really do love their alcohol and have reshaped the industry.

But I must pray that no one would allow a drinking (or drugging) habit to get in the way of providing for oneself and one’s family.

“The world of commercial driving has maintained a strong position per the absence of drugs and alcohol in the industry overall, which I can certainly see as a factor that would not act as a draw to trucking jobs,” Tully told me. “I think many younger people see this as an end to an otherwise enjoyable lifestyle and that finding a balance between kicking back and working would be too difficult.”

I’m not fully satisfied on this element and promise to look deeper into millennials love for a good time and great drink as it relates to their ability to work. It’s too soon to call for me, so check back soon for some updates on this matter.

Why drive if I can walk?

The current federal requirements for a CDL that Baguirov discusses are robust, however in the grand scheme of things, any good driver without criminal issues hanging over head can pass with a little bit of effort.

But then again, driving isn’t all that easy, and with millennials flocking to big, walkable cities and ditching their cars, perhaps the stress of the road is another factor.

“On one hand there are far more regulations today than there were even a decade ago, and a trucker must be able to do more in terms of understanding instructions, dealing with technology, and going through constant congestion and traffic on major highways and intersections,” said Baguirov. “[On the other hand], trucks today are far superior to what was available before in terms of comfort and safety, [and] some regulations make life easier for truckers, and pay is higher.”

Even with the advancements in truck technology, I know people who do not have a driver’s license and have no intentions on ever getting one. Some simply have no interest in learning to drive – everything they need in life is available within a walking distance of their home and many people rely on consistently improving public transportation systems to get around.

 

For someone like me that grew up with an interest in trucks, heavy machinery and idolized a man that made a living driving, fixing and using them, a job in trucking is right up my alley. But for one of my closest friends who doesn’t own a vehicle and takes a comfortable commuter train to and from the office everyday – living in one of the most walkable cities in N.J. – the thought of driving a big rig probably never crossed his mind.

With the economy on the upswing and unemployment at a 17 year low, it’s safe to say there’s a seat for every butt out there that wants a job.

Some of those happen to be up in a fully loaded 18-wheeler. If millennials seize the opportunity and hit the road has yet to be seen.

James Merse is a healthcare communications professional and freelance writer from Northern New Jersey who also teaches communication courses at community colleges. See his recent work with The Daily Caller, The Rouser and the American Jobs Report and follow James on Twitter.