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Where Women Help Drive the Trucking Industry

By Deborah Kobes and Sara Lamback

Women do drive trucks. But like the construction trades and several other stereotypically male jobs, truck driving has maintained stubbornly low rates of female workforce participation. Nationwide, approximately six percent of truck drivers are women1. These women drive not only big rigs in long-haul trucking, but also industrial trucks, trash and recycling trucks, and small delivery trucks. These opportunities could benefit many more women around the country because they are well-paying jobs that require relatively little education or training. The median wage across trucking is $17.49 per hour, which is slightly above the nationwide median of $17.40 for all occupations. Becoming a truck driver requires a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), which can be earned in approximately a month.

So how can we begin to expand the presence of women in the trucking workforce? Twelve small metropolitan areas around the country offer some insight. In each of these areas, over 10 percent of truck drivers are women. The industry shares two key characteristics across these communities: trucking jobs are in high demand and they typically pay well. In Harrison, Ark., where 19 percent of truckers are women, and Brookhaven, Miss., where women comprise 14 percent of the trucking workforce, pay for truckers is at least 120 percent of the state’s average wage. These wages are similar to those earned by computer-user support specialists and cardiovascular technologists in Arkansas and Mississippi, respectively—both occupations that require significantly more education and training than truck driving.

It stands to reason that big cities with large trucking industries, like Chicago and New York, would offer many opportunities for women. But why are Harrison, Brookhaven, and 10 other midsized metropolitan areas employing so many female truckers?  The high concentration of trucking jobs and strong wages suggests that trucking is an important industry with a real demand for workers in these communities. We suspect that the strong demand for workers creates more opportunities for women, as employers work to recruit and retain truckers from a broader labor pool that includes groups not traditionally represented in trucking. The payoff? Women have served as a vital way to expand the workforce and allow these metropolitan regions to compete.

Women can help the trucking industry nationwide meet its demand for workers in both large and small metropolitan areas. During 2016, there were nearly 1.5 million job postings for truck drivers across the nation. And turnover in the trucking industry is stubbornly high, hovering around 80 percent.

To help address these challenges, JFF spent the past two years working with 10 sites across the country to recruit, train, and place women into the transportation, distribution, and logistics (TDL) industry. With support from the Walmart Foundation, JFF and our partner sites have served 1,005 women, over 20 percent of our total TDL training participants. Across the sites we have seen innovative approaches to expanding access to TDL jobs for women, including exciting new strategies pioneered in Mississippi, Iowa, and New Jersey.  We hope that similar efforts can continue to support not only women interested in TDL, but also a trucking industry that needs to attract a more diverse and robust workforce.


1All data in this blog was extracted by S. Lamback from Emsi Analyst, 2017.1 data set, unless otherwise noted.