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Trucking Industry Working to Improve Image to Attract New Drivers

Twenty-four hours a day, trucks crisscross the country moving many of the products we use. But concern is on the rise because not enough people are interested in driving those trucks. Efforts are underway in Wisconsin to draw more people to the industry. 

Part of the challenge is to improve its image.

When you think about truck drivers, what image comes to mind? Maybe someone who’s out of shape, chain smokes and every other word is an expletive. Greg Persinger says that stereotype still rings true sometimes.

“I guess you could call us cowboys," he says. "We’re out here, we’re sleeping in the trucks just like the old cowboys did. They used the ground.”

Persinger has been driving for more than 17 years. We met at a truck stop just south of Milwaukee. While we spoke, he held a cigarette in one hand and a lighter in the other. Persinger says he’s noticed some changes for the better.

“They’ve cleaned up a lot of stuff, you know there’s not as much…I haven’t seen as much prostitution going on in the truck stops and the drugs, all that stuff like there used to be, So that part of its getting cleaned up” Persinger says.

But Persinger says some things will never change. “But as far as you know the way you know the drivers behave or how they look, there’s no way to change that,” he says.

But the industry is working to change how it’s viewed. Dan Zdrojewski teaches truck driving classes at MATC.

“Professional, somebody who’s being hired to do a job that represents their company well," he says.

Zdrojewski says his job is not only teach students how to drive, the college is also spreading the word about the value drivers provide.

It’s wrapped several trucks with the message “America’s Real Superheroes Don’t Wear Capes.”

The American Trucking Association started the campaign. Zdrojewski says it’s fighting an attitude that’s been ingrained.

“If you think about what our grandparents or what our parents have always told us, it’s been a brainwashing tactic this whole time. Generation after generation. Don’t do what I’ve done, right? Go to school, get your degree, get that office job,” he says.

Across the country, the number of drivers the industry needs to hire today is 35,000 to 40,000. And in states such as Wisconsin, it’s even harder to recruit. Rob Reich is senior vice president of recruitment for Schneider International, based in Green Bay.

“We find that down south it’s a much more recognized profession than it is in other parts of the country,” Reich says.

In order to introduce more Wisconsin people to truck driving, this summer Schneider this summer went on a seven-city tour in a truck honoring the military. Reich says the company is also changing the way it schedules drivers so they don’t have to be away from home for weeks at a time.

“More than three quarters of our jobs now get home at least once a week, typically on the weekends. And we feel like that’s made us a lot more attractive,” he says.

To sweeten the pot even more, Reich says Schneider has upped its pay by 13 percent in some areas.

David Armon is one of the nine students enrolled in MATC’s truck driving class. He’s a clean cut guy with a salt and pepper beard. At age 45, Armon says he hopes to one day be an owner operator.

“I know they pay a good wage and I want something that is steady and you’re kind of like your own boss,” he says.

While Armon is trying to get into the industry, Greg Persinger, the guy from the truck stop, he wants out. “My truck gets paid off in August of 2017, I’m done,” Persinger says.

Persinger says that with so many regulations to follow and fees to pay, the business just isn’t profitable enough for him to continue. As for what he’ll do next, he says probably flip burgers.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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