Europe offers driver recognition lesson

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This competition puts the spotlight on drivers, celebrates their professional skills and highlights their contributions to society. In this way, we want to raise the status of drivers and attract more young people into the profession.” –Mikael Person, head of Scania’s seven year old Young European Truck Driver (YETD) competition

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Now here is a brilliant idea aimed at not only burnishing the truck driving profession in Europe but also formulated to help bring “new blood” into the industry: a continent-wide skills competition for big rig pilots aged 35 and under.

Created by Swedish truck maker Scania back in 2003, the Young European Truck Driver (YETD) contest culminates in a two-day event in Södertälje, Sweden, that pitted some of the best young drivers from across Europe against one another in a wide battery of challenges: defensive and fuel-economy driving; cargo securing; pre-driving checklists; and finally safety maneuvering.

A field of 10,000 young truck drivers under age 35 from 18 European countries gradually got whittled down through a long succession of local and regional contests to just 18 (one from each nation), finally going head-to-head back on Oct. 8 and 9 to see who would be crowned “the best of the best.”

[Here’s a snapshot of the finals. I suggest hitting “pause” to let the video load a little before playing.]

“The driver is absolutely the most important factor in heavy vehicle transport. Vehicles and infrastructure are obviously of major significance, but fuel-efficient safe driving is primarily a matter of human behavior,” noted Erik Ljungberg, Scania’s senior vice president and head of corporate relations.

“Through YETD, Scania wants to help raise the status of professional drivers and emphasize their great importance to the profitability of transport companies and to road safety, as well as to the reduced environmental impact,” he added. “We also want to help attract more young [and] capable drivers into the transport business.”

The winner of the YETD 2010 competition turned out to be a 26-year-old Swede named Andreas Söderström, who works for his father’s hauling company Göran Söderströms Åkeri (and don’t even ASK me how you pronounce it!).

As noted previously, the road to the YETD winner’s circle wasn’t easy for Andreas, who first had to make it through a regional qualifying round and then beat seven other skilled truck drivers in the Swedish national final before getting a shot in the final championship round.

Rounding out the winners were Patrick Schildmann from Germany (second place) and Zarko Tokic from Austria (third place).

[Here’s a clip of the award ceremony for all three finalists. Note the size of the audience: Scania welcomed some 5,000 to 10,000 members of the public to the event, using it as a way to change public perception of the trucking business in Europe as well.]

Scania’s YETD contest, by the way, is endorsed of the European Commission and the International Road Transport Union (IRU), with big-time sponsors such as Michelin and Volkswagen Group Sweden helping to sponsor the finals.

Scania added that it’s now also running similar competitions in Latin America, Africa and Asia – again, using such skill competitions as a way to bolster the image of driving a truck for a living while making the profession more appealing to new recruits.

[Here’s a wrap up of the entire 2010 YETD competition, including the fitting of the finalists for their contest "uniforms."]

Now, a lot of folks might consider such events nothing but “fluff and flash” when it comes to the real hardships involved when you pilot a big rig for a living. In the U.S., for example, company driver pay on average is about $39,000 annually according to recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – certainly nowhere near a king’s ransom and not something many feel is worth two or more weeks per month away from family out on the road hauling freight.

And look, too, at the challenges being posed by a generational shift in the overall U.S. workforce, with 77 million “baby boomers” retiring over the next two decades that are replaced by only 46 million new workers, according to numbers tracked by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

ASTD’s research indicates that “Generation X” workers (born between 1965 and 1979) typically value a strong balance between life and work, priding themselves on self-reliance and resourcefulness. Then there are “Generation Y” or “Millennial” workers, born between 1980 and 2000, that are more technologically savvy and desire even more workplace flexibility.

Still, the trucking industry – here and abroad – is going to need drivers, and recruiting efforts will need to start moving beyond mere “want ads” in the papers and online to be successful. Something new and exciting will be needed to make people look at a truck and say, “I want to drive that for a living.”

And perhaps a national contest in this country, focused on just younger drivers, might help do just that.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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