On Oct. 4, all around the country factories opened their doors to busloads full of students as part of Manufacturing Day. The annual event started in 2012, sponsored by the national Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute, allows plants to show off their latest technology, such as robots or 3D printers, as well as the dynamic engineers and technicians designing, operating and maintaining the complicated production lines. It’s like a live version of the show “How It’s Made,” and the purpose is to plant the seeds in young people to get them, to realize manufacturing isn’t the a dark, dirty and dangerous profession.
That’s the surface-level, altruistic explanation. The real reason is the same as why Grizzly bears wade in raging rivers during salmon spawning season. Winter is coming and they need to stock up on fresh meat. And most are woefully unprepared. If you think the estimated truck driver shortage of 160,000 over the next decade is bad, consider what your equipment and part OEMs are going through: Deloitte projects 2.4 million unfilled jobs in the manufacturing sector by 2028. In 2017, the nationwide event included 267,607 students. If each one of them convince only nine others to go into manufacturing, consider that skills gap filled. Problem solved, easy peasy.
OK, so any one of these tours will be lucky to keep even a quarter of the group’s attention, which isn’t a knock on this incoming generation, but on teenagers in general. Having been one, raised two and managed dozens, their future concerns do not typically extend beyond the next weekend.
That’s why you must reach the hearts and minds when they are young. For factories, they have really only one day, while truckers have the extreme fortune to be ambassadors every day of the week. Every time your immaculate big rig, perhaps hauling ice cream or some other kid-friendly good, drives by, you grab a child’s attention. And every time they yank the imaginary chain in their car, and you respond with in kind with a booming honk, that passing fancy turns into downright adoration.
Trucks are just cool too kids (and many adults). And two industry insiders, Linda Hagopian and Debbie Ruane Sparks, are making sure children understand how important they are by co-authoring a new set of early reader books called the Tripp Wheeler Adventures, published under the 10-4 Good Buggy name. The first book, The Red, White and Blue Party, was launched appropriately on Oct. 4 (10-4).
These books fill in the blanks on what happens in a trucker’s life before and after they hit the road. The lead character Tripp, and his dog sidekick Detour face logistical issues such as a malfunctioning reefer trailer and a nefarious owner-operator named Rusty Hooligan. A glossary also teaches children various trucking lingo, such as "10-4."
In the end, the message delivered by Hagopian and Sparks and colorful pictures illustrated by Kenny Kiernan may lead to more drivers in a decade or longer, though the primary reason for making the books wasn’t as direct as addressing the driver shortage or overall stereotypes.
“We see a disconnect with how the industry is portrayed in the media and reality, and believe more good stories can be told,” said Hagopian, a former consultant for the Truckload Carriers Association. “As we write the books and think about telling the story of a truck driver’s life, we see how there is a very positive message and a potential of having a positive effect on the industry’s image.”
And the target audience fills the niche between the “the truck is red” crowd and angsty staring-at-their-phones-24/7 demographic.
“We saw that there were no great books for early readers,” Hagopian. “There are plenty of picture books for toddlers that spark their love affair with trucks, but no great books for early readers. We saw an opportunity to share our love of the industry and fill that need.”
The hardcover version is a bit on the high end for a children’s book, at $24.95 (includes free shipping), but for a fairly niche book that helps kids develop their reading skills and shows the importance of trucking, it’s worth paying the premium over another book where a fairy princess gets her birthday ruined.
And this book includes at least two positive female characters, owner-operator Dollie Hauler and dispatcher Bumper. Sparks, the former director of marketing for the American Truckers Associations, will be the transitional CEO for Women in Trucking beginning in January.
Overall, the authors hope this opens young readers' eyes to the fact that there are real people driving those giant trucks, and while they might not work with fancy robots or 3D printers, they are true American role models.
“I’ve always admired the trucking community’s love for family, strong sense of patriotism, as well as their generosity and resiliency,” said Sparks.