“Dad, why do they have Hooters girls at their booth?”

“They bring them in to draw attention and a crowd.”

Attending Truck World today, after a decade in the industry, it is clear to me that the event is not the same as it has always been. Personally, I think the industry as a whole has made a pivot. But what is it, and will it last? Truck World is one of the best places to take in the industry from a granular perspective. You see the new technology that is coming in. You see the new players who are showing up and the old ones who are still around. Truck World introduces drivers to companies who need them and gives the general population an invitation to an industry that could change their lives.

As a 14-year-old, it was the best way to take in everything that transportation had to offer. Yet, my biggest takeaway was that the industry as a whole liked to objectify women. What kind of message do you think that sends to a young teen? Not the best one. Now, let me be clear. We are not in a place to judge others based on the decisions that they make. I do not care if someone decides to work at Hooters or any other legal establishment. The way people choose to dress and what they decide to show is completely up to each individual and no one else. However, I am a firm believer in time and place. There are many locations that do not have dress codes yet; it is in my personal opinion that there are many outfits that can be deemed as inappropriate in said locations. For example, a Hooters outfit in a professional trade show conference.

The transportation industry started with a bad reputation. Let’s be frank. However, specifically over the last decade, I think there has been a shift in the transportation industry that is entirely disruptive, but is it sustainable? In the last decade, technology, generational change, and the pandemic have created a trifecta of industry disruptors. Transportation is not typically seen as a glamorous industry. Technology has done two things to help that change. First, oftentimes people will think about the transportation industry and they immediately picture the human behind the wheel. They see someone who drives a truck and while drivers are essential to the industry, it does not start and stop with them.

Shelley Walker, the CEO and founder of the Women’s Trucking Federation, says, “We are all pieces of the puzzle.” Drivers, warehouse, office—everyone has a role to play. With the advancement of technology, people are able to learn more about the industry and the types of roles that are currently available. From the accounting department to marketing, out in the warehouse on a forklift or packing the skids to be shipped, transportation is much bigger than the truck. Along with increasing the knowledge of the industry, technology has helped tighten up the professionalism of the industry. With advancements such as digital logbooks and in-cab facing cameras, the industry has tightened up its standards, creating more safety for everyone on and off the road. Technology has changed the industry forever.

Generational change is bound to happen. Today at the show, I stopped and talked with a man who used the quote, “My daughter won’t let me say that.” Which is something I have heard my father say many times before and something I have heard my grandfather say to my mother in the same mocking manner. New generations are new for a reason. They have the opportunity to learn from those who walked before them. Next-generation iPhones are supposed to be better than the last, and we would hope for nothing less from people. Generational change within private and publicly owned companies across transportation will support retaining information that is valuable while still bringing in new age adoption.

Covid-19 taught society about a lot of things. One of which being how essential truck drivers really are. While people scrambled to find toilet paper, masks, and hand sanitizer, the heroes of the road were working endlessly and alone on the highways. Prior to Covid, transportation was often portrayed as the last resort when it came to careers; however, through the pandemic, we taught the general public about how essential they really are. Because of the way the transportation industry has made a massive pivot in the last decade, the way we are seen and talked about by the general public has shifted. Today at Truck World, I did not see any people who were brought in to be eye candy like I had a decade before. Today, however, I did see a plethora of professionals, young and old, who have shown up as their best selves ready to shake hands and close deals. Yet, this still begs the question, will it continue down this path or will we revert back?

Yes, we will continue down this path, and yes, we could potentially revert back if we are not careful. Technology and generational change are inevitable; people will continue to procreate and new generations will continue to invent. This is good! The cycle will continue. However, the pandemic has a shelf life of effectiveness. The general public has a really short attention span in 2024, 8.25 seconds to be exact, decreasing nearly 25% since 2000. The pandemic may have already lost a lot of its relevance, but people have not yet forgotten. As an industry, we need to curate an environment where people see the same sense of need, urgency, and dependence on transportation as a whole if we want to continue to grow. 

It is amazing to have seen the industry make such a pivot in the last decade. With the addition of Trucking HR Canada starting Women with Drive 10 years ago and with the Women in Trucking Federation on the eve of their tenth anniversary, it is clear that it has taken a lot of effort from those driving for change. While we have seen the progression of this initiative, I am very aware of the work that remains to be done to maintain the traction the industry is gaining as a whole.

Hannah MacDonald-Dannecker