Truckers: The Hidden Heroes of COVID-19

For commerce — ‘e’ and otherwise — goods must be moved in the real world

by Jack Whatley

When the country was ordered to shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19, a roaring economy screeched to a halt and millions became unemployed overnight.

Many of us did our part, sheltering in place to protect each other and the most vulnerable among us. The first responders led the way in fighting the pandemic, putting their lives at risk in order to protect and serve us. From healthcare workers to law enforcement people to those working for essential businesses, they all are to be thanked and commended for their courage and commitment to the public good.

But there is one industry we haven’t heard much about as the pandemic and all its severe effects on our nation continue. The trucking industry, more than ever, showed how important it is to our economy and to our basic survival. Through it all, commercial trucks that move most of America’s freight kept rolling down the highways.

Just imagine if we were not able to get the frontline healthcare workers the supplies they needed. How much different would the outcome be? Without the trucking industry transporting supplies to so many places, think of the nightmare that would have ensued. Hospitals would have run out of critical supplies, including personal protective equipment.

Further, massive food shortages would have developed. Service stations would have run out of fuel, with the mounting shortages creating soaring pump prices and chaos. Mail and package delivery would have ceased. Retailers would have been even more restricted due to dwindling inventory to offer in reduced hours.

If trucks stopped transporting, within a week ATMs would run out of cash and banks could not process transactions. Grocery shelves would be nearly empty. There would be garbage piled up in the streets. Automobile travel would cease. Hospitals would begin to exhaust their oxygen supplies.

So, count truck drivers and the industry as a whole among the frontline responders who deserve our thanks and praise. They went the extra miles to deliver at a time of desperate need.

Although our biggest public health crisis in more than 100 years has disrupted supply chains and inflicted financial pain on a good number of logistics companies and transportation companies, we can also remember this challenging time as one when the trucking industry delivered big-time, and its essential role in our society has never been more obvious.

The context of our challenging times and the trucking industry’s place in helping us move forward and keep fighting remind me of two of my favorite quotes about logistics. One is from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th president: “You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.”

Another comes from Tom Peters, an American writer on business management practices: “Leaders win through logistics. Vision, sure. Strategy, yes. But when you go to war, you need to have both toilet paper and bullets at the right place at the right time. In other words, you must win through superior logistics.”

Superior logistics in the trucking industry is one of the critical factors why we are able to get through this pandemic. Without any disruption to the delivery of medical supplies to our hospitals, of food to grocery stores, of fuel to service stations, and on and on, we are able to keep moving forward.

In an average year, the U.S. trucking industry logs 432.9 billion miles – enough to encircle the world 17 million times. You see trucks everywhere in normal times, and, as the pandemic shut us down or largely slowed us down, they were still out there, easily taken for granted, perhaps, because they’re as dependable as the sun.

The pandemic has indeed shone a spotlight on trucking and its value to our economy and to society as a whole. Almost 70% of the goods we use every day are transported by trucks. Trucking is responsible for almost 6% of the jobs in America, and we need 900,000 more people to meet the new demand for truck drivers. The number of trucking jobs is expected to grow by 6% by 2026. Trucking is a diverse industry as well; more than 40% of the jobs are held by people belonging to minorities.

And with the new shopping trends of purchasing online and having products delivered to your doorstep, the importance trucking plays in our lives continues to increase in the new economy. The pandemic accelerated the growth in e-commerce as more customers preferred the safety and convenience of shopping online.

Through it all, professional truck drivers and everyone in this vital, essential industry has delivered — to markets, homes, hospitals, everywhere. And whatever the future brings in this uncertain world, you absolutely know that trucking is one of the few things you can continue to count on.

Jack Whatley, author of the upcoming book Human Code of Hiring: DNA of Recruitment Marketing, is a recruiting strategist who specializes in creating employer branding campaigns that position companies as the employer of choice in their market. His Driver DNA Hiring System has made Whatley the No. 1 people ops recruiting strategist for truck driving recruitment in the world. Whatley is known for creating successful recruiting and employer branding campaigns and delivering highly qualified applicants. Together with his partner, daughter and innovation wizard Anika Whatley, they have expanded into other industries and have been working to perfect the Human Code DNA Hiring System, which uses the latest technology to improve the quality of worker life and enhance recruiter productivity.

Did You Know: Phoenix remains home to one of the giants in the trucking industry — Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings Inc. — which was formed in 2017 when Phoenix-based companies Knight Transportation and Swift Transportation merged in 2017.

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