John Hitch | Fleet Maintenance
The 'Emerging Leadership Panel' at HDAD 2023 included (from left to right): Julie Alfermann, Jack Chung, Tanya Miracle, and CJ Biank.

Trucking's emerging leaders offer advice on people management

Jan. 25, 2023
As trucking goes through technological changes, so too do the personnel and skill sets required to succeed in the industry. Here is how your fleet can prepare your next generation of leaders.

GRAPEVINE, Texas—As the commercial vehicle space goes through rapid and expansive technological changes, operators in the industry must be aware of the changing needs in personnel and skills to successfully navigate such developments. And the ability to translate data and the ability to foster the next generation of leadership are the two pillars to set up a foundation for success. This was the major message coming out of the "Emerging Leadership Panel: Preparing Your Organization for the Next Round of Leaders" panel discussion at the 2023 Heavy-Duty Aftermarket Dialogue.

During the session, four up-and-coming leaders from leading commercial vehicle industry organizations wrestled with and advised on how the trucking industry can best prepare itself for a changing of the guard. The panel was moderated by Emily Poladian, president of Bridgestone Mobility Solutions—Americas, and included:

What skills does the industry need?

Poladian asked, “With data and technology continuously becoming a larger part of trucking, has this changed the skill sets needed to be brought into the industry?”

In short, yes, according to the panel.

Chung, formerly of Hyliion and Bendix, said its important to differentiate “what kind of data we’re looking for,” whether that be vehicle data generated through ADAS components, EV battery systems, electric motors, and more, or geographic data, such as in route planning, or even driver behavioral data.

“We have a huge amount of data that’s being processed,” he said. “The most important thing, for my company and myself, is trying to understand how we can utilize that data and generate a conclusion that’s useful for our customers and for our research and development as well.”

With that in mind, Chung followed saying that Noregon is looking for data scientists, as should others.

“When thinking of the ‘back office’ jobs that have been historically pen and paper—now they’re getting digitized,” Biank said. “How can we start training the people we have, or bringing in people who have that type of background, that familiarity with systems and platforms, so they can succeed?”

The goal here is being able to translate and relay that data into useful information for end users.

“I think you also need to look at, ‘how does that data get to the end user?’” Alfermann followed. “You can have a data analyst that comes up with a conclusion, but how do you make that information easily digestible so that it’s understood by the field? I think that’s where our younger generation comes in. They really are going to be the creatives who make that data usable in the hands of our fleets and in the hands of those fleet managers.”

How does the industry attract those skills?

The panel discussed ways in which fleets and companies can make themselves attractive to younger people, women, and those that have the skill sets the industry desires. A resounding message was to be conscious of the younger generation’s desire for a higher quality of life, or a more distributed work-life balance.

“The reason I can be here in Dallas today is because my husband’s company has flexibility so that he can do school drop offs and pickups," Alfermann stated. "As we’re getting into more of a hybrid work environment where you understand that maybe your work is more effectively done at home, or maybe you’re in the office but you leave early—that’s okay! It’s okay to recognize that you have a life outside of work. I think that benefits keeping people in general, male or female, in the industry.”

Beyond work-life flexibility, being able to relay to candidates more than just a job description of the role, but more so how that role fits into the big picture, can go a long way, Biank suggested.

“When you think of this younger generation coming into the workplace, something that they all are, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, they’re builders,” he said. “They don’t want to be handed a task list day one. They want to feel that sense of ownership, that they’re building something or they’re accomplishing something. And I think that’s really how to start catering to that audience. It’s not showing them, ‘Hey, you’re gonna be doing A, B, C, D.’ No, it’s ‘You’re creating this new platform, ecosystem, tool,’ whatever it might be. You have to show them what that end goal is.”

And for attracting women into the industry, Alfermann said it’s about awareness—and it needs to start early on. For example, her company attends job fairs for middle schoolers and high schoolers so that when they are old enough to attend job fairs in college, they are aware of not only the company, but that that side of the industry is present and available.

And a job fair tip: “Make sure that there are women at that table from your company,” she said, “so that when people are coming to talk, they see that there are other women that have grown up in the industry. It provides them with the idea that that can be them, too.”

Furthermore, when looking to recruit and onboard, understand that biases exist and be cognizant of how candidates are evaluated, the panel suggested.

“When you’re looking to hire a woman, make sure that you have the right people on the hiring panel that are going to value her right,” Miracle said. “It’s human nature to hire someone that’s like us. If you have a panel full of middle aged men, they’re likely going to choose a middle aged man, because we value what is like us. You need to make sure that your hiring panel is diverse enough that they’re valuing the full candidate array, because I think we’re getting a lot of applicants and they’re just not transferring into those roles that they could be.”

How do you prepare the next generation for leadership positions?

Baby Boomers have been retiring and leaving the industry; and during COVID, even some Gen Xers have exited the workforce. Today, Millennials are being placed into high level positions as a result. So, how can a fleet manage a career path for their future leaders? The best strategy: engagement.

And in order to keep younger leaders engaged, Miracle suggested, it helps to diversify what individuals are working on.

“Make sure they have the opportunity to grow by working on a project that might be outside of their typical day to day… where they get that broader perspective and have that growth mindset while still staying inside their role,” she said.

Furthermore, having structures in place for training and mentorship are critical for career development, the panel resoundingly agreed.

Biank related his experience of coming into the industry and having a mentor with over 20 years of industry knowledge. Going through a mentorship with that individual has placed him in a position to be a mentor to others today.

“I think about giving them the opportunities and giving them enough leash that they feel that they can go on their own; they’re not being micromanaged,” Biank said of his mentorship strategy. “There’s no helicoptering. They’re on their own, doing their thing. And I think they see and respect that. And when the time comes that they have to talk about it, we talk about it. They’re very open to all feedback, whether it’s positive or negative feedback. I think giving them the opportunity to fail or to succeed is huge.”

“A mentoring program doesn’t just help the mentee learn,” Miracle related from her mentorship experiences. “It also gives us a network. As their pillars have grown, so have mine. So, my network still stays above me. I still have those people to bounce ideas off of and get a broader perspective.”

How can a potential leader find such opportunities?

If you are a mid-management leader looking to take on more, the HDAD panel suggested multiple routes to pursue in order to successfully expand your role.

“Be confident. Be assertive. Confidence is key,” Biank emphasized.

“Find what you’re passionate about and then exploit it,” Miracle followed. “And make sure you talk about it with every single person at your organization that you know.” Miracle related her experiences prior to her current role, where she created a new role for herself through persistence as she would bring the latest news and developments in future powertrain technologies to her superior, and would ask how her team could follow suit. Eventually, she posed that this role become her full-time job, and it worked.

“Finding that thing that really drives you, and then making sure everyone knows it is what drives you, really can help you elevate yourself to that leadership position,” she surmised.

Chung concurred that passion is the number one thing potential leaders should take ownership of. He too stepped outside his previous role to become an in-house expert in the latest CARB and other emissions-related developments, which led to his ability to step into a larger role down the road.

“Recognize what your management’s pain points are,” Alfermann noted. “If you’re passionate about something, but it doesn’t align with the company’s objectives, you might not get very far. But understanding where there might be shortfalls and where you can help meet your company’s objectives—that’s going to get you some additional attention.”

About the Author

Tyler Fussner | Associate Editor | Fleet Maintenance

Tyler Fussner is Managing Editor - Community Manager at Supply Chain Connect, part of the Design & Engineering Group at Endeavor Business Media.

Previously, Fussner served as the Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. As part of Endeavor's Commercial Vehicle Group, his work has been published in FleetOwner magazine, as well as Bulk TransporterRefrigerated Transporter, and Trailer-Body Builders.

Fussner's May 2022 print feature 'The dawn of hydrogen trucks' was named the best single technology article in B2B by the judges of the 2022 Folio: Eddie and Ozzie Awards. Fussner was also awarded Silver in the Technical Article category for the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) 2021 Tabbie Awards.

Fussner previously served as Assistant Editor for Endeavor's Transportation Group on the PTEN, Professional Distributor, and VehicleServicePros.com brands.

Fussner studied professional writing and publishing at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He has experience in shop operations, is a Michelin Certified Tire Technician, and a Michelin Certified Tire Salesperson.