Alex Leslie

Interview by
Published on
October 12, 2022

In this episode...

Dr. Alex Leslie, Ph.D. is a research associate at the American Transport Research Institute (ATRI), and he has been keeping a close eye on this situation. Dr. Leslie proposes a stronger emphasis on COMMUNICATION and ADDRESSING CONCERNS specific to millennials and gen z truck drivers. These include: making sure that the company culture is unique to the company and is in line with a candidate’s values, a balanced lifestyle so the company can allow a truck driver to explore their other interests, a clear company vision so that the candidate sees what the company wants to accomplish, and finally - to let a candidate know that their work makes a positive impact, that their role matters in the bigger picture.

Alex Leslie

Research Associate at the American Transportation Research Institute


a company culture should be something that is unique to a company it should be you know a set of practices or or priorities uh or values that actually set that company apart from other companies Welcome to Night for the mile delivered by freightworks one of America's fastest growing podcasts actually produced by Trucking indicted to tell stories

all here right now Slide by the mile delivered by freightworks I'm your host Butch Maltby and uh you know what folks we want to tell you real quickly before we have an incredibly exciting guest who by the way is going to help us understand and unpack what it takes to recruit younger drivers among other things but he's going to give us insights on the market marketing place and uh the whole supply chain area and and just what's going on in America there make sure that you like share and push shout this podcast uh we we need your help so that we keep bringing twice a week episodes like this I've got Dr Alex Leslie and you know what you're a doctor that means you you worked hard you went to school a lot right where'd you go to school

uh the doctorate came from Rutgers University okay and and you know what for some reason I remember Alex uh names of schools so though that's the Scarlet Knights right that's right out in New Jersey yeah they get beat up most Sundays yeah where where are you from where where did you grow up I grew up in Minnesota okay great and and so that's where you are right now the Twin Cities no that's right uh Twin Cities right along the Mississippi River excellent all right well you know for so many people that watch Life of the mile there are people that are interested in trucking they're truck drivers they're people involved in logistics and the like you know this whole area of driver recruitment is huge and you've done papers you've done research on what's happening in the marketplace as it relates to drivers and Trends and the like I I would like you to take as many minutes as you need to just wax eloquin and talk about what you think is happening out there as it relates to recruitment companies and younger drivers

you know we we see a real challenge right now a lot of carriers trying to figure out how can we reach that younger demographic and not just for drivers but for their diesel techs as well uh and there are a few different reasons for that where you know you we hear a lot about a driver shortage and about carriers not getting as many drivers as they'd like to that's partly because the trucking industry has a has an aging Workforce if you compare Trucking to construction or American industry at large or a few of those other uh industries that we compete with for labor Talent we tend to have a much older Workforce which means we have a higher proportion of individuals in that 55 to 65 age range and a much lower percentage of our total Workforce in that 25 to 35 age range and that's a challenge because it means first of all we're not getting in as many of that next Generation as we need to fill those rules but it also means that we're not passing down some of that knowledge that our veteran experienced drivers have to that younger driver cohort who have their own perspectives too right a successful company ought to have you know employees across all generations to make sure that there's that rich perspective there what do you believe are the primary barriers uh for younger people who are considering options in life vocationally you know do I go to college do I go to a trade school or whatever what are the primary objections or obstacles over which you know that they need to kind of jump to get into Trucking what what do you think is out there

let me first tell you one thing that isn't an obstacle and that is uh you know right after the pandemic we heard a lot about Labor Force participation right are people coming back to work uh at this point we're sort of past that if you look at the labor numbers uh you'll see that young adults are back right now in the you know in the job market at levels that they are higher in fact than what they've been for over a decade so it's not for lack of people out there the young adults are there that the issue is is sort of you know the actually reaching them uh so so then the actual challenges that we've seen are several part of it is um that Millennial and gen Z drivers uh they are placing more emphasis on things like work-life balance uh or your own sort of personal fulfillment uh on the job and that means that it's it's certainly important to have Rising wages but it also means that lifestyle is is a challenge there as well we as part of this research we went out and interviewed a lot of younger drivers and we asked them what was the most important uh thing that Drew you to the industry uh and we saw that 40 of those drivers said pay uh but the key point to emphasize there is that means that 60 percent of younger adults said something other than pay and it was what made them want to join the industry yeah so so that that lifestyle aspect is is really critical again not just for Millennials or gen Z's across the board but specifically for younger drivers too this is uh Dr Alex Leslie he's an expert on the whole area among other things of recruiting younger drivers and understanding younger generational cohorts you know it's interesting I was in a conversation not too long ago Alex uh with somebody and uh and and what I learned uh somebody with a Barner organization a research group that I'm familiar with and have done work with and and they've said a lot of Millennials and youngers gen Z's want to know not just what you do but who are you they want to understand the heart and soul of a company it's not just what we will do together but who are you and uh what what would your response to that be it's absolutely true when we spoke to younger drivers we saw that 84 of them said that company culture is important and one thing that I always like to emphasize when I when I talk about this research is that company culture doesn't just mean we do the job well uh we're on time something like that we're not jerks right those hopefully every business ought to be doing those things a company culture should be something that is unique to a company it should be uh you know a set of practices or or priorities uh or values that actually set that company apart from other companies right if you could say you know if our value is X and every other company in the world has that that's not really your culture that's just everyone that's just part of being alive so this is this company culture thing is tricky and what we find is that you know a good company culture is not going to win everyone over because different employees are going to Value different things right so a key part of one company culture might be hey we might not have the highest wages in all the land but we're going to make sure that our scheduling really meets the needs of our drivers and you know again that's going to set them apart from their peers in certain ways that's it's only one piece of course of the sort of broader picture but I think that it's really useful to keep this culture factor in mind and and to not be afraid to to lean into it uh because again it's not going to win everyone over at the start but it is going to improve retention of those drivers who you do match with on that culture film it is it's so interesting by the way this Dr Alex Celeste he's an expert among other things in the whole area of of recruitment for younger uh demographics and the like for Trucking and Logistics you know I remember years ago Fortune Magazine had an article that was titled Corporate America searches for a soul and the essence of the article was that America's consumers of goods and services don't just want to know what you do they want to know who you are and out of that uh in a group I was involved in uh bubbled up something called the Susan B Coleman Foundation where all of a sudden breast cancer awareness was something that became corporately engaged because companies wanted female employees especially to know we care about female healthy what do you make of that these days Alex what what what do you what do you think is happening are companies waking up to the reality it's not just about pushing paper sending out invoices and in this case driving loads down the road yeah yeah I mean what we see especially from younger drivers is that they want to know uh how is the company doing where is it going what's what's the game plan uh that communication is really important to you know younger employees especially they they want to be heard but they also want to hear what's happening uh you know we we see a lot of Millennials and gen Z's want to find work that that they feel matters that makes a positive difference in their Community or their country uh and and that requires some communication it means you know that that companies have to actually sit down and look at you know what are we doing what how do we make a difference and and how do we express that and that can take place in a lot of different ways you know we had a lot of the drivers we talked to wanted to hear from management about you know regular updates to how the company might be doing they appreciated things like surveys that you know actually listened to their opinion right and and you know they weren't going to get punished for for sharing their opinion a lot of younger drivers also said you know it was hard to find out if a company might even value my work as you know someone in my early or mid-20s and for them being able to see a young adult in something like marketing material or an advertisement that helped communicate to them that hey this is a place that that actually welcomes employees who are young and you know is going to actually listen to what I have to say and and treat me like you know a valued member of the team uh that is so interesting now you have the opportunity obviously to interact with with companies can you describe a little bit companies that seem to be more Adept and adaptive to these new realities like what are the characteristics of healthy companies willing to embrace change and understand the uh need to Pivot towards these new generational realities talk about that yeah I would say one thing is uh you know building off of what I was just saying communication uh listening but that also means uh again some of that outward facing publicity aspect of it too there's right now a huge knowledge gap between carriers and you know young potential employees who they don't necessarily know what it's like to be a trucker they don't know what a day in the life looks like or what the job expectations are uh so we found that very simple thing that that really helped uh get employees in the door was was carriers Simply Having targeted information on a web page saying you know this is how the process looks this is where you know you'll be not just tomorrow but but next year or five years down the line we don't give enough a credit I think to a lot of our younger adults they they're thinking ahead much more than what I think a lot of us in the industry realize when we spoke to these younger drivers they really emphasize things like wanting a stable career path they wanted to know where their career would be what they would be doing you know five years down the line not just what's the big flashy sticker price or starting bonus they they're thinking ahead and they want to see that companies are thinking ahead too Alex if we may uh if you're open to it can we can I talk a little bit about your journey to get to where you are did you play with trucks in a sandbox I mean what what what what was what was your story where'd you start uh you know I uh I sort of came to the industry from the research side of things so I have this background and uh in uh qualitative research and data science uh always been interested in logistics and sort of the nitty-gritty of of how do things get from point A to point B but I have a lot of family members in the industry as well some in logistics uh some who drive trucks uh some who do some technician work so uh it's one of those things where like a lot of people out there uh frankly like a lot of the younger drivers that we spoke to um a lot of people in the country have family maybe in the industry but but maybe haven't looked into it with a lot of details so I I found myself sort of accidentally entering the industry and then uh really latching on to it uh right away that's interesting well you know when you have I I I I I tell people when we started this podcast you know Josh farmer the founder and president of freightworks you know we're an asset based carrier here with 150 trucks or so in Western North Carolina uh you know I I God brought me here for a lot of different reasons and you know I said to him I think we ought to do a podcast and I've told people we don't really know what we're doing but we're doing it you know and and it's it's kind of the logistics world right in the trucking world and people that claim to have it all mastered they don't really do they

it changes every week so I certainly feel like that uh you know these things are always changing and I will say to that point especially when we're thinking about younger employees they have been through in the last couple years of very challenging jobs absolutely uh younger employees were much more likely to get laid off or furloughed right away when when the pandemic all started and so that meant that they were a little bit more wary when they re-entered the market they wanted to look for a company that wasn't gonna you know leave them outside at the you know next sign of something going bad they wanted to look for companies that were going to be adaptive and we're going to you know be uh you know really responsive to a changing environment so one thing when I talk to carriers uh you know I like to tell them look younger drivers they're not asking for a bunch of stuff because they're greedy or because they're entitled they're asking for things like flexibility or or more communication or more knowledge because they know that that's what a successful business does right in this you know ever-changing environment over these last few years right right and and of course of course the pandemic created a lot of uncertainty in the job market with many many people and so is it safe to say that trust you know building the Equity Bank of trust companies making good on their promises making sure that what they say they do is important to this younger generational cohort is that important absolutely and and I you know to that point trust like communication goes both ways so one of the things that we found speaking with younger adults in the industry is that they really value transparency right they they just want to know what the deal is right the more transparent information uh that drivers get about again what does the job look like day to day what's expected of me uh and you know what is this career look like what do my skills and my skill growth look like the more transparency that that carriers can provide drivers uh you know that that builds a lot of trust and you know that's trust that's going to be returned uh you know younger drivers a lot of the ones that we spoke to if they felt like they were trusted uh they said that they were uh you know planning to stick around that they intended to remain with their carrier it's the light by the mile delivered by freightworks I'm your host Butch Maltby this is Dr Alex Leslie he is a Marketplace pundit insightful especially as it comes with research based interpretations of this uh very insightful on what's Happening as it relates to recruiting younger drivers now let me let me ask you this question uh you know the obviously the transportation and Logistics industry is extremely cyclical and inherently chaotic where do you see that where are we we are right right now I mean what what what's going on in the marketplace what are you as you interact with different companies what are you hearing can you paint kind of a picture sort of a state of the union if you will laughs yeah it's uh you know I feel like baited breath is maybe the the phrase there's there are a lot of factors that are moving right now and uh you know we see for example that costs like driver wages and benefits they're continuing to rise and we don't see that hitting a ceiling yet because um you know wages are going up in all Industries the what's that saying about a rising tide lifting all boats in this case trucks perhaps uh and and on top of that inflation so we're gonna see those driver compensation costs go up at the same time we've got repair and maintenance costs continue to climb so we we see you know uh I know that there's there's cautious optimism about what is happening with rates right now but uh and certainly with fuel costs declining uh but but the costs in other sectors are continuing to rise so I think it's going to take some time and probably also leading into the you know the Holiday Market here to see what that Outlook is going to look like uh moving into next year if you have the opportunity uh to to sit with a handful which I'm sure you've done before of of Freight Logistics company CEOs who are pondering what can we do to more effectively communicate our message to a younger generation of drivers what would you say I'm probably asking you to give away Consulting time right now for free but just I'm going to give you the opportunity to tell how people can contact you in a minute but what would you say what would you paint on that Canvas OR that question

yeah and I should say I'm happy to give it away at the uh American Transportation Research Institute we are we're not profit uh not-for-profit uh research arm of the trucking industry so uh all of this research I've been talking about here you can download and read for free uh on our website which is so uh not giving away anything or at least uh nothing that I'm not trying to give away what would you say though if you had you got a blank canvas and you can paint on it and you got a group of trucking CEOs and Founders that are pondering they're sitting and saying what can we do to attract new new younger drivers what would you say yeah I would say first of all um you know if you want to recruit younger drivers you need some targeted recruitment and that can be as simple as as just having a web page or a you know a PDF flyer online where if if a younger adult is going to type in you know uh Alex Leslie Trucking young adult jobs or or you know uh jobs out of high school or jobs out of college depending on what you know what positions you have available I should be you know that young adult should be able to find something they should be able to find a page that explains what that looks like remember uh the rules are complicated here right you can't drive interstate commerce until you're 21. you know and and you can drive in trust States but but what carriers hire specifically for that from 18 to 20 if you're a young adult and you don't know the nitty-gritty of these hiring practices in the industry that's accomplishing sure that's going to be a barrier you know so a page a web page some kind of flyer even that that simply gives a road map what does it look like what does the job look like you know month one versus you know maybe year two that goes a long way just to having that information so you can be found in the first place um but another thing that we see very successful is is Outreach that that goes to students where they are whether that is uh high school or technical colleges

um you know making relationships with guidance counselors or instructors uh so that you can actually get that message to the students who may already be interested they might be in shop class they might you know be looking at some kind of driving or or you know Logistics related career already uh so uh that Outreach again that can take some time and it can take some resources uh but it's the kind of thing that young adults are are certainly grateful for you know it's it's so interesting because here in Western North Carolina we're building and I've actually been working on this a relationship with isothermal Community College there's a program that they have uh along with uh Catawba County this is uh north of us and you know I I keep encouraging our team at freightworks to plant seeds with even middle schoolers about how vital Trucking and Logistics is and you know it's so interesting uh young women young men love to see trucks you know we just made a big order of new Peterbilt 579 Ultra Lofts and I'm I'm pressing on leadership here to get it out in the county in our County so people can see you know this is like an airplane on the road and there's a lot of and there's a lot of curiosity about it isn't there when you put it out in front of people do you find that

yeah one of the things that our research and and a number of other Studies have shown is that technology you know it doesn't scare young adult's way quite on the contrary technology is actually one of the biggest it's inviting it's inviting for young influence exactly it is inviting it's something they are excited about and so you know leading with that showing you know what does a cab actually look like today uh and and I will say too that part of that means presenting the industry as a high-tech industry too so for example if you're a carrier and your promotional materials look like they were printed in 1990. you got a problem uh that tells young adults that this is a kind of an aging old school company you know might not be very high tech might not be at the Forefront which you know is often not true most of the industry is really pushing barriers so having that kind of promotional material that that looks sharp that you know has the the the the the strong design the the sharp colors that kind of thing uh helps communicate the fact that we are a high tech you know what Alex I'm gonna say this uh you you were very kind in the way you just said that you you could have painted a picture of a lot of companies Trucking logistics companies that are I I'm not even sure summer in the 90s they may be in the 80s or 70s so I said that uh doc Dr Alex Leslie didn't you know the mark of great conversations is that they they end too quickly and we're about to take an exit uh here shortly um you know if you had one or two quick comments to make for companies about the industry and what they should be doing to reinforce for younger potential drivers why it's a great industry to come in what are a couple of sound bites or pithelial statements you'd make

yeah I would say uh you know uh technology is an important part of it I would say leaning on the fact that this industry is vital right we've seen plenty of that over the last couple years how Trucking stepped up uh younger adults they want to be you know making a difference and and trucking Trucking really does that uh and then aside from that you know every carrier is different uh that's something that people on the outside of the industry often don't realize how different it can be from sector sector company to company if there is something that makes you different that sets you apart that you know uh is is something that is focused on your drivers whatever that may be really lead with that absolutely emphasis that is so good at at is so good and of course in the case of freightworks gear it's an asset-based Carrier about 150 trucks 220 employees you know coast to coast and a lot of great customers that that we love having you know we we tell the truth we tell drivers that and it's uh you know in our case for leadership we're a company that's built on biblical values and and we're Unapologetic and in saying that you know Dr Alex Leslie has been our guest today now this is the point where I get to give you a gift by the way because we're rounding the home stretch so William who's behind the camera here at freightworks one studio right around the corner from the driver's Lounge by the way I used to have an office and I got rid of it because I wanted to hang out with the drivers and they think by the way I know how to fix their truck which I don't you know I I I'm a listening ear and I care but uh listen we wanna we have loved having you on so we want to give you a gift and I'm going to quickly uh I tell people it's not like a QVC infomercial but I'm going to tell you three options that you have okay all right so winter is coming and we've got this life of the aisle beanie with the leather patch there you know that that's one option the other option is uh and this went over well it Matt's by the way I went to the first Mid-America truck show that I I've ever gone to and it was just cacophonous and people in the county say we don't know what that word means but uh so this is a cap that went over well it's got a patriotic theme in the back there the Life by the mile logo there and then of course we've got the freightworks One logo cap and so one of those three things we want to send you so which one may I send

I'll go with the uh you know what winter is coming I'll go with the beanie okay you know what somehow in my heart I knew you were going to do that and uh we we've got a we got a box of beanies so you're gonna be one of the first to get these you know I love open-hearted conversations folks we have been with Dr Alex Leslie he's in the Twin Cities uh real quickly if people want to reach out to you how can they do that foreign yeah uh the best place is to you know go to our website that's no dashes no spaces no nothing uh you can access any of our research there uh including the the report that I've been discussing today and it's all free of charge again uh if you have any questions for me specifically my contact info is on that website as well right it's it's been a delightful conversation I've learned a lot and I hope we can talk again soon okay

thanks for watching this episode you know life by the mile delivered by freightworks is one of the newest largest and fastest growing podcasts actually produced by a trucking company now we want you to like and share this episode if you'd like to see more episodes click here and make sure that you subscribe to this channel by clicking here we'll see you there

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