Baby Boomers start truckin’

Marketplace Staff Oct 17, 2006


KAI RYSSDAL: Trucking stocks lost some ground today. Earnings so far this season have been looking just good, not great. Demand for freight capacity’s fallen off a bit, but trucking firms are facing a bigger fight. It’s been a couple of years now that companies have had a hard time finding people to drive those big-rigs. Pay and benefits have been jacked up and managers are also working on changing their employee demographics a bit. Martha Woodruff reports they’re trying to lure baby-boomers into the driver’s seat.

MARTHA WOODROOF: 61-year-old Vic Latham eats a gloriously unhealthy breakfast of sausage and eggs at White’s a Virginia truck stop on Interstate 81. After decades as a General Motors parts manager, Vic changed careers and started driving trucks.

VIC LATHAM: I wanted a change. Had a midlife crisis or whatever but I didn’t like wearing a three-piece suit day in and day out. I was able to put on a set of Levis and a t-shirt and travel to see this country. It’s beautiful. I love the trade.

ARTIS CHEZIK: Working in a factory every day, you punch a time clock and you’re around the same people every day.

From the homey cab of her big rig, that’s 50-year-old Artus Chezik.

CHEZIK: But out here you’re around different people all the time. And I love traveling. And I feel like I’m on vacation but I’m bein’ paid too.

She left a career as a test operator to start driving trucks eight years ago.

50- and 60-year olds like Vic and Artis are exactly what the trucking industry wants. Faced with what experts call the worst labor shortage in its history, these companies are desperate to hire Boomers who want second careers.

American Trucking Association commissioned +SmithGifford agency to design a new recruitment campaign and Boomer focus groups went wild over a video painting trucking as freedom.

In the first few months of this year, Schneider National’s 50+ hirings were up 85 percent over 2005. Company VP Todd Jayden says Boomers have proven to be ideal employees.

TODD JAYDEN: In our experience, the mature worker was a very quick learner and very responsive to the needs of our customer and to the industry in general.

And Boomers need the work. Nest eggs are shrinking, pension plans are drying up and trucking companies are offering cushy benefits — not to mention salaries that can top $60,000 a year.

Economist Leora Friedberg is with the University of Virginia. She says campaigns like Schneider’s could become the norm for industries that need more workers.

LEORA FRIEDBERG: I think more and more Boomers may see the need to stay in the workforce because of shifts in their pensions coverage, in the structure of those pensions, rising health care costs and uncertainty about Social Security.

Whether it’s out of financial insecurity or late-life wanderlust, more and more Boomers are trading cubicles for truck cabs.

From just off Virginia Interstate 81, I’m Martha Woodroof for Marketplace.

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