This article originally appeared in Freight Waves.
The second week of September is celebrated as National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, commemorated every year to pay respect to the 3.5 million truckers that get behind the wheel to move freight across America all year. Though the freight industry is one of the primary drivers of the country’s economy, it has largely remained shunted from public gaze, with end consumers often not grasping the industry’s significance in the seamless flow of goods and its part in advancing consumerism.
“Truck drivers are the backbone of our economy, getting things to the people who need them when they need them. I think this week is about establishing a culture that highlights the importance of these individuals to the nation, and to bring awareness to people on how the industry works,” said John Leo Post, the co-founder and vice president of product at Worklete, a startup working on the physical well-being of truckers.
The industry grapples with an ageing problem, with the average age of truck drivers hovering in the mid-50s. Truck driving is also not one of the top options for a profession that millennials look forward to taking up as a long-term career. This is mostly due to the televised hardships that truckers face, in terms of long and stressful work hours and the fact that they stay away from home for many days or weeks at a stretch.
“Today, companies are trying to figure out ways of investing in drivers and making sure they stay around for a really long time. The biggest deterrent to this is the physical fatigue that drivers face when they spend long hours behind the wheel. Since it’s a static seated position, drivers end up with stiff hips and shoulders – issues that are very regular in white-collar industry jobs,” said Post.
However, for a truck driver, the issues run deeper than in the white-collar world, as they have to get out of the cab and do hard lifting like disengaging the fifth wheel, pulling the tandem, and helping with loading and unloading. “These are very taxing and explosive activities, and drivers are not trained to engage in such activities,” said Post.
In his time at Worklete, Post has witnessed hundreds of truckers suffering from injuries to the back, shoulders, and knees, which predominantly were caused by wrong repetitive motion and prolonged periods of sitting behind the wheel. Solving this issue is a challenge as drivers are out on the road and not in a facility surrounded by peers who could look out for each other to overcome physically demanding work.
“It is necessary to leverage technology so that you can help these drivers access the things that they need to be successful. In our case, it is to make sure that a driver has access to the training no matter where he is, and stay away from getting hurt at the job,” said Post.
Companies like Worklete enable this by creating awareness to drivers on a large scale, and delivering content online in a way that is easy to understand, teach, and develop habits around. Data can also be captured from the drivers, which could be fed back into the program to make it more customized for individuals and reinforce the continuous improvement of the overall platform.
Alleviating the physical duress faced by drivers could also help improve the ratio of female drivers in the industry, which is a meager 6 percent at the moment. This lopsided gender equation is partly to blame for the perception the industry has in the society – that it is a masculine profession – which Post considers to be a misnomer that is slowly lifting.
“I can see the trend where many women are entering the market as drivers in recent years. I know instances where a couple of companies we work with, about 25 percent of their drivers are women,” said Post. “When you create a culture which dissolves the idea of the industry being male-dominated and helps prevent musculoskeletal injuries at the workplace, you will see more women joining the workforce.”