Get outside the box to find solutions to industry issues

Wrenches and sockets.

If you asked 10-year-old us what we wanted to be when we grew up, there probably wouldn’t be a whole lot of answers involving what we’re doing now. And, assuming you’re reading this, what you’re doing now is probably in the heavy-duty industry.

I wanted to be a singer. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

Let’s broaden the scope. If you asked any 10-year-olds anywhere what they want to be when they grow up, they’re probably not going to answer one of the professions in the heavy-duty industry, either.

That’s a problem.

Across the board, we know there are labor problems in several industries as the Baby Boomers retire. One problem is Generation X was significantly smaller than the Boomers. There are more Millennials and Gen Z, but the latter is just starting to filter into the workforce and Millennials are just now gaining enough experience to move into management positions.

That’s working against everyone.

[RELATED: 'We're eating our young.' Why retaining young techs has become so hard]

But heavy-duty trucking, in particular, has an image problem. First of all, it’s not real sexy to say you turn wrenches on diesel engines or sell air disc brakes. Necessary, yes. Cool factor? Negative numbers.

Secondly, not only is there not a social cache, there’s also a stigma related to working in commercial trucking. I haven’t been in this job very long; just a few months. In my career, I’ve worked in the academy, newspapers and with architects. While the switch to the medium- and heavy-duty aftermarket was exciting for me, more often than not, my new chosen industry raised eyebrows.

“Is there anything to write about?”

“So, trucking, huh? Um … ”

There’s plenty to write about. You and I know that medium- and heavy-duty trucking is a vibrant, technologically advanced and necessary industry. We literally put the wheels on American life. There are few things more exciting than the transformation taking place and about to take place in our industry.

While we’re still turning wrenches, we’re also programming software and filling test tubes. We’re getting creative with solving problems, from moving past fossil fuels and emissions regulations to filling chairs and 1,387 more I haven’t thought of.

Which brings us to the problem of filling jobs in our sector. The industry needs to do something that it’s very good at — thinking outside of the box — in spaces where it traditionally doesn’t go. Think schools, even elementary schools. Show kids and their parents what a career in commercial trucking is all about.

Thinking outside the box can also help solve a problem that America’s 10-year-olds can’t yet, and that’s filling chairs that are empty today. There are plenty of other career paths that have too many hands, and their previous skills could translate well into trucking’s dealer and aftermarket channels.

Have someone that successfully managed a salon? I guarantee you that person is skilled at creative problem solving and time management. Hell hath no fury like a woman with three-week roots and a looming social event, and your salon manager not only figured it out to that customer’s satisfaction, but did it in a way that also accommodated the employee, too. That’s a valuable asset on any team, and a skill that can’t easily be taught.

Leaf springs, on the other hand? That, we can teach. And we should. The industry depends on it. 

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