Publisher’s Column: Leaping language and labor barriers

People do business where they feel comfortable” is an old adage likely to be heard a lot during the next 10 years as the trucking industry faces new challenges.

While the industry’s labor shortage – from drivers to technicians – certainly isn’t novel, the demographic changes taking place in order to fill the labor gap are. Of the 3.2 million truck drivers in the United States, 480,000 are Hispanic, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. And there are good reasons to anticipate the percentage of Hispanic drivers and owner-operators will increase sharply over the next decade.

The demographic group that currently provides more than half of all truck drivers – white males ages 35-54 – will decline by more than 3 million between 2004 and 2014, according to research firm Global Insight. During the same period, the Truckload Carriers Association predicts 80,000 new drivers will be needed annually.

The Hispanic population is an ideal alternate source for this labor. Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority group in the country, and U.S. Census Bureau data show half of them are under 26.

With recruiters actively targeting them, the share of truck drivers in the Hispanic workforce has risen rapidly in the past five years. Truck driving schools and trucking trade shows now cater to Hispanics, trucking companies are hiring Spanish-speaking dispatchers and dealerships are employing bilingual salespeople. In most cases, communication in Spanish isn’t a necessity since law requires truckers be able to speak English. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that communicating with native Spanish speakers in their first language is an essential tool for winning business.

We at Randall-Reilly Publishing found that out first hand while conducting research prior to the 2005 launch of Transportista, a Spanish-language news magazine for drivers. Forty-two percent of Hispanic truck drivers who spoke English and had passed their commercial driver’s license exams in English said they preferred reading in Spanish.

Truck parts distributors and repair facilities in areas with significant Hispanic populations are learning their bilingual customers also favor doing business in the language they were brought up with and use at home. “They will take their business where they’re comfortable,” says Larry Franklin, owner of Franklin Truck Parts, headquartered in Commerce, Calif., where 90 percent of its customers are Hispanic. “Our people meeting the public are bilingual.”

As the number of Hispanic drivers increases, distributors will have to seek out employees who speak Spanish. This might be easier than you think. The same qualities that make Hispanics a good fit for the truck driving profession also make them excellent candidates for careers in truck parts and service. Maybe our segment of the industry should focus its recruiting efforts on Hispanics as well. Such a strategy could help you leap the labor and language barriers at the same time.

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