Generation Z, the cohort born between 1997 and 2012, over the next decade will become a predominant generation in the U.S. workforce. The next generation entering the workforce after Millennials, those in Gen Z increasingly are looking for attractive career alternatives to traditional college experiences. With interest in trade programs surging and enrollment in colleges and universities slipping, motor carriers have an opportunity to insert themselves into the narrative and position trucking jobs as a positive, modern career opportunity that offer strong paychecks, good benefits, and a quick training-to-job pathway. The National Transportation Institute recently spoke with Lindsey Trent, co-founder and president of Next Generation in Trucking Association, about ways the industry can connect with and promote trucking careers to this up-and-coming generation. Here’s what motor carriers should know and a few thoughts on ways they can start engaging with Generation Z.
Raising trucking’s profile among the next generation
“For young people in high school or just out of high school, working in trucking really isn’t an opportunity they know about at all. So we’re trying to raise that awareness at the high school level and even the middle school level,” Trent said of Next Generation in Trucking. Her organization actively engages with high schools, trade schools, and community colleges to establish trucking programs and CDL training, and she encourages motor carriers to do the same within their own respective communities.
Often, one area of focus with high schoolers is weighing the value proposition of attending college — and likely accruing student debt in the process — versus opting to receive skills-based training (like receiving a CDL) to start career or pursuing hybrid opportunities to work and attend school at the same time.
While many high schoolers and even young adults often don’t fully grasp the financial concepts or the weight of student debt, many Gen Z’ers often are attracted to the idea of finding a career path right away after graduating high school, says Trent, particularly if it means earning the type of income that professional drivers make. Also, she promotes trucking opportunities as a way to pay for college expenses and avoid student loan debt, not necessarily an either-or proposition — a strategy motor carriers could follow, too.
Connecting with Gen Z’s values
Promoting trucking careers to Gen Z starts within everyone’s own immediate communities, says Trent, by encouraging nieces, nephews, grandchildren, friends, and neighbors to consider trucking, expelling any preconceived notions of driving jobs, and pointing to trucking as an industry aligned with the values of Gen Z.
To make those value-based connections, Trent points to research conducted by the Nebraska Trucking Association and the American Transportation Research Institute about what Gen Z might find appealing within trucking.
First, Gen Z obviously is interested in technology, said Trent, so it’s important to highlight how advanced trucks, trailers, and transportation tech have become — and how the industry is on the precipice of even greater shifts.
Secondly, Gen Z ranks environmental and social concerns as important to their career. Carriers and those trying to evangelize trucking within their communities should highlight how clean modern trucks are and focus on the clean energy transitions taking place with electric vehicles and other alternative fuels, Trent said, as well as show that trucking is a diverse industry that welcomes and respects everyone.
Gen Z also wants to feel like their work is important and that it makes a difference, she said. That’s generally an easy sell, Trent said, by highlighting how essential trucking is in society, as well as pointing to trucking’s role in supplying life-saving necessities in the aftermath of natural disasters.
Lastly, she said, Gen Z is entrepreneurial and wants to know there’s a career path ahead of them. To make the industry appealing to this cohort, give them examples of a career arch in trucking and show them it’s a great industry to become your own boss and work on your own terms.
Communicating through the right channels
Outside of continually re-shaping your fleet’s social media presence to meet Gen Z where they are (aka not Facebook), be present in your community. Work with local high schools or community colleges to establish the framework for speaking with students about trucking and the industry’s opportunities or to start building up a driver training program.
“There are a lot of kids who aren’t going to college and they’re looking for a career path,” Trent said. “What if you’re the one who introduces them to a career in trucking and it completely changes their life? We’ve seen this happen at the high school level, where someone who may not be successful in traditional education is shown there are careers in trucking, and it changes their life.”