By Jeremy Byrd, SmartDrive
I love BIG trucks! My passion for trucking started at a very young age, and as soon as I was exposed to big trucks, I immediately fell in love.
I then fell in love with politics. (Love is fleeting.) From being a Senate Page while in high school to working as an intern with Senator Strom Thurmond, I developed a passion for how government worked.
That’s why I’m excited to be selected to participate in this year’s American Transportation Associations’ LEAD ATA Program – a rare opportunity to marry the two loves of my life (outside of my wife and two children). This esteemed, one-year program was developed to engage the trucking industry’s best and brightest, and prepare us to become the leaders of tomorrow. I’m joining a diverse group of professionals representing the many different segments, regions and fleet sizes that comprise the trucking industry.
Today’s Biggest Issue
The trucking industry has many monumental issues – highway infrastructure/congestion, burdensome regulations, environmental and truck parking just to name a few. But, I think the most critical issue is the need for more drivers and maintenance technicians.
I know that demographics are working against the industry. Trucking has an aging driver pool and voluntary retirements account for approximately 40% of turnover. I’m also aware that trucking’s image needs to improve. To effectively recruit younger workers into the industry, we must invest in ourselves. Lifestyle concerns, and being away from home and family too much, are major deterrents to individuals who could be the industry’s future safe and productive professional drivers.
Shippers and receivers have to understand that America’s needs are being delivered by America’s drivers. These drivers are essential to maintaining our standard of living and they deserve our utmost respect. Rather, in too many cases, drivers are treated to the contrary – their time is not valued, their needs are often not considered and they, generally, are treated in a disrespectful manner. This must change. When any person feels appreciated and respected, they work harder, produce more and become a powerful advocate.
I’ve learned that, in some niches of the trucking industry, driver turnover is 100%. Wow! Driver wages lag behind workers in other industries. This must be addressed. The volatility and unreliability of earnings based on mileage and percentage pay should be replaced by a dependable weekly wage. This, in and of itself, will drive turnover down and help bring drivers in. I’ve heard, many times, my father Phil Byrd say, “Drivers don’t just make a pickup and they don’t just make a delivery. They truly make a difference in the life of every American.” I firmly believe this.
Just like the industry has a need for drivers, it also has a need for qualified journeymen and entry-level diesel technicians. Over the recent past, we’ve seen commercial trucks become complicated pieces of technologically advanced equipment. The modern-day diesel technician truly must be a technical expert. ATA’s annual maintenance technician competition is proof of this fact, yet the industry finds itself short of technicians. We must solve this pressing issue. Working together – ATA, state associations and state technical colleges – we can, and will, make a positive impact on this need.
I love the trucking industry. I was born into it and have never wanted to do anything other than be part of it. I know the LEAD ATA experience will help me be a better future leader for the trucking industry.
I’m a firm believer that success comes to those who seek it, and I do. I understand, as a young professional, that I must aspire to associate with – and learn from – the best of the best. I know that participating in the LEAD ATA program will afford me these opportunities.
Jeremy Byrd is a Regional Sales Manager with SmartDrive. He was recently selected as the only technology solution provider to participate in Lead ATA.
Jeremy joined SmartDrive in 2015 and has held various positions as fleet/terminal manager, safety manager and safety technology sales in the trucking industry. He sits on the Technology and Maintenance Council for the South Carolina Trucking Association and has served as chairman of the Lean Manufacturing Committee for Cox Industries and on the South Carolina Trucking Association Future Leaders Board. He attended the University of South Carolina and is recognized as a Certified Director of Safety and Regulatory Compliance from the University of Central Florida and a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt (Kaizen) form Villanova University.