By Taru Virkamaki
It’s always nice to see your own name in print, so I was quite excited to be invited to write a column for Auto and Trucking Atlantic. My connection to the trucking industry? Intrigue and fascination from being a life-long, very close friend to someone whose husband drove tractor trailers for over 20 years before a degenerating eye condition took his vision and him off the road at 56 and into early retirement.
I remember the stories of problems on the road, the days, sometimes weeks of separation from family, the long drives with never enough sleep, the hit-or-miss meals and snacks, the stress of discovering missing cargo more than once, and the toll all of this took mentally and physically. I sometimes wondered if the forced early retirement for Bill was such a bad thing!
And while the spouses/partners at home have their own stories and perspectives on this lifestyle–for a lifestyle, it is–my interest and focus in these pages will be the 3-3.5% of women in Canada’s labour force who have chosen the trucking industry as their career.
From truck drivers, owner/operators through to managers, directors and CEO/Presidents, I will cover the gamut exploring the particular trends and challenges faced by women in a sector that is still male dominated. How do we collaborate and work together to improve the working conditions for all of us? How do we attract the next generation of women to choose a career in trucking? The questions are endless and there isn’t one answer that fits all.
I’ve spent several weeks digging into all things trucking reading the stories of the fascinating women who get behind the wheel, or establish associations that bring women’s voices together to share experiences–the victories and the challenges.
Often children end up doing what their parents do or did. It’s the life we/they know best. Women who choose a career in trucking typically follow the footsteps of a mother who did the same. However, recruiting the next generation this way leads to a very, very slow growth!
The post-pandemic world–even though we aren’t there quite yet– is ripe for opportunities! The attrition of male drivers, as an example, has left the trucking industry in dire need of drivers. Perhaps welcome vacancies for women? For the 2021-22 fiscal year, the Government of Canada is offering a Student Work Placement subsidy worth up to $7,500 per student, an attractive offer for students pursuing a career in trucking.
These are just a few of the themes I will be digging into for future columns. What about truck stop restrooms? How clean are they anyway? Or what about the disturbing reports of harassment, sexual or otherwise, that’s taken over the news in the past few years? No sector has been safe!
Mental and physical stressors seem to be escalating. Or is it that we’ve become more attuned to demanding a healthy work-life balance and no longer willing to settle for less? Truck parking, tolls, insurance costs, crime. So much to research, so much to discuss.
And what do I bring to this? An inquisitive mind with a gentle sense of humour. I am an experienced leader in nonprofit management, a writer and editor. Most recently, I’m a consultant providing employment services to people with disabilities–a perspective that may also show up in my column.
My career was launched with a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies/Immigration history, and led to a life-long commitment to gender equality, cultural diversity, and a passion for social justice.
I look forward to engaging discussion and thoughtful debate in the coming months over issues that matter to you, the women in trucking!