KAG President and CEO Bruce Blaise talks about the image he thinks most people have of professional truck drivers, why that image is wrong, why it should change, and why he is so passionate about this issue.
Q: Why is the image of professional truck drivers something that concerns you?
A: Let’s be honest. If KAG didn’t have a team of professional truck drivers, we’d be out of business and I’d be out of a job. That makes them pretty important in my eyes.
But in the bigger picture, I genuinely think our drivers here at KAG and most other companies throughout the industry are simply good people. They do a hard job and do it well. They feel a commitment to get their loads delivered, whatever it takes. They must have a clean record and be drug free. They have big hearts, the kind of people who are always eager to help someone out. And they tend to be patriots. How can you not admire people like that?
Q: How do you think most people perceive the job of being a professional truck driver?
A: Unfortunately, I think too many people still have an image of them as semi-skilled folks who are a class below most occupations. As someone who works with these folks every day, that perception couldn’t be further from the truth.
Q: Why do you think that’s an unfair perception?
A: Let me use the analogy of airline pilots. They are in the transportation business,and are responsible for operating expensive and technically sophisticated equipment. They need good physical skills but also good people skills. They need to be both highly responsible and reliable, with a clean background and a commitment to their profession. And if they make a mistake, people can die. Every one of those things applies to truck drivers!
Q: Do you really think the skills and traits are similar?
A: Certainly, operating an airplane requires a higher level of skill and training, but nonetheless, the traits described for pilots apply equally to professional truck drivers.
Our drivers operate sophisticated pieces of equipment that cost upward of a quarter million dollars. And, many of them are carrying flammable fuel or potentially dangerous chemicals. It takes a tremendous amount of focus and skill to safely deliver their loads, something we do thousands of times every day.
Q: And you feel drivers are actually more important to our economy than pilots, right?
A: Not to say bad things about airline pilots, but imagine what would happen if every one of them quit their jobs tomorrow. You might have to cancel a vacation. You might have to drive or use another mode of transportation to get to a business meeting. But life would go on.
Now imagine what would happen if every truck driver quit their job tomorrow. Within a very few days, you’re out of food. Within a week, you won’t be driving anywhere because there’s no gas. And within months, with no materials going to factories or products going to stores, our economy would literally collapse.
So you tell me, which job – pilot or truck driver – is more critical to our lives?
Q: Do you think the perception of drivers is changing?
Yes, but not fast enough. It’s definitely a more attractive job than it used to be. Pay and benefits are increasing. Transportation companies like KAG are doing more to recognize the critical need for their skills. And the profession is getting more diverse, with more women and people from different backgrounds and cultures getting into the field. I’m proud to say it’s a profession where gender inequality is hard to find. A qualified woman earns the same as a man running the same route.
Still, I believe the perception persists that being a truck driver is a less-than-outstanding profession. But the way I see it, they are the heroes among us.
Q: Why is what we think about truck drivers important?
A: We’ve been talking about the driver shortage for years. It’s still a problem and may get worse before it gets better. If we can start to change people’s minds about a career in driving, that’s going to be a big help to increasing the number of drivers. I don’t think there are too many parents encouraging their kids to consider a career behind the wheel. We need to change that because a young person can make a really good, honorable living as a professional truck driver.
Q: What needs to happen to get people to think differently about truck drivers?
A: Maybe what I’ve said in this article will change people’s minds a bit. I hope so. And I hope they will look for opportunities to remind the people who work for and with them that professional truck drivers play an essential role in our lives.
In previous articles in this newsletter, I’ve encouraged our customers to be respectful of our drivers. I hope they’ll continue to treat drivers with the same kind of respect they would any other professional, and maybe look for ways to demonstrate appreciation for what they do.
And I think all of us who work in this industry need to do a better job of sticking out our chests and being proud of what we do and the important contribution we make to our economy.