WITH A FOCUS on professionalism and authentic experiences, a workforce development effort called Be Pro Be Proud is helping introduce students of all ages to the rich potential of trade careers, including careers in the trucking industry.
The Be Pro Be Proud initiative addresses the skills gap by promoting skilled trade careers to young people. The Georgia chapter of the program launched in 2020. Misti Martin, president and CEO of the Cherokee Office of Economic Development, which spearheaded the founding of Be Pro Be Proud Georgia, said the program is helping to bring a fresh perspective to students and others about a variety of trade careers. At the heart of the initiative are 18-wheelers that serve as mobile workshops, visiting schools and other stops to spread the word about a range of careers.
“We are seeing a positive shift in the way students, teachers, parents and society in general perceive technical careers and training,” Martin said. “Many young people have the idea that skilled trade jobs are ‘dirty jobs.’ After touring the Be Pro Be Proud Mobile Workshop, perceptions change when the students learn that they have tons of options to make more money than they expected without spending four years in a university degree program.”
CAPTURING A YOUNGER AUDIENCE
Emily Crane, vice president of safety and education for the Georgia Motor Trucking Association, said one of the prime benefits of Be Pro Be Proud is that it engages with younger students, helping to introduce them to a variety of skilled trades. GMTA is a sponsor of the initiative.
“What this program does for many trades, including trucking, is unique. They’re going to middle and high schools to get students interested in these professions early,” Crane said. “Students become more engaged and interested in the professional trades. That’s a crucial step in our workforce development efforts.” Crane said the traditional method of focusing workforce development efforts on high school juniors and seniors often means waiting too late in the process to capture their attention.
“When you attend a career day in elementary and middle school, you often don’t see professional trades as an option. All too often, it’s when a student is a junior or senior that the opportunity for trade school is brought up,” Crane said. “That’s not a good way to handle it.”
The program’s effectiveness stems in part from an emphasis on talking with students rather than at them and giving them an authentic sense of the types of tasks various careers require.
“What I see Be Pro Be Proud doing is taking students out of the classroom, out of their comfort zone, and talking with them and engaging with them,” Crane said. “With this program, they’re able to go through exercises and participate in real-world scenarios for each profession. It’s hands-on, and it’s tangible. To engage and create interest among students today, you must give them something tangible. They want an experience. In that way, Be Pro Be Proud creates engaging opportunities for students.”
A POPULAR INITIATIVE
Martin said demand for the Be Pro Be Proud Georgia mobile workshops has proved to be very high, and the program has a waiting list of more than 60 schools all over the state. Be Pro Be Proud Georgia recently introduced a second 18-wheeler, and Martin said it will help them reach as many students as possible.
“It will include an L3 Harris truck driving simulator and gamified stations to introduce students to even more professions within the trucking and skilled trades,” Martin said. The simulator offers a broad range of features, such as force-loaded steering, as well as mechanical elements and natural environments that require absolute driver concentration. This addition will give students a more realistic view and feel of what it’s like to get behind the wheel of a commercial truck.
“We are also thrilled that development has begun for a new mobile app to help connect students to local training and job opportunities,” she said.
The program’s addition of a second mobile workshop “comes with a high price tag,” Martin said, and Be Pro Be Proud Georgia hopes to find more partners in the state willing to support its efforts.
“We need companies that hire in the skilled trades to partner with us to help us get the message to the students,” Martin said. “It’s a win-win for our partners, because they can join us for school tours in their target hiring areas and they have access to our student database that shows what students’ interests are and what their plans are following high school.”
The initiative celebrates students who decide to attend trade schools with signing day ceremonies akin to those featuring athletes when they sign college scholarship offers.
“It gives them recognition, and it really reinforces their decision,” Crane said. “It helps them feel proud of what they have decided to do.”
She believes the Georgia trucking industry will begin to see the biggest rewards from GMTA’s involvement with Be Pro Be Proud Georgia as the younger students now learning about the trade start to reach working age.
“Over the next decade, we will really start to see an impact,” Crane said. “We know trucking is not going anywhere. And we know that the need for mechanics and those in trucking operations will only increase. We have to have them. Trucking is the lifeblood of our economy. We have to be addressing it now, because if we don’t it will be too late when we finally do.”
A LONG-TERM PERSPECTIVE
Crane said Be Pro Be Proud fits into GMTA’s overall workforce development efforts and represents a strategic approach based on a focus on the long-term health of the trucking workforce, making them a natural partner.
“We can’t just look at it like there’s a driver shortage right now, and middle schoolers can’t help us with that yet,” Crane said. “Our driver shortage situation isn’t going to be getting better, the mechanic shortage situation isn’t going to be getting better. So, by participating in workforce development, not only are we looking for ways to fill the void now, but we’re also being proactive about it. We’re not being reactive. We’re looking forward.”
In addition to the Georgia Motor Trucking Association, Be Pro Be Proud has a host of key partners that include economic development organizations, local employers and regional boards, among others. GMTA member United Federal Logistics is a local business that is providing support to the program, Martin said.
“With logistics and trucking being so crucial to our economy, we really want to grow our partners in the trucking industry so that we can help connect students with these high-paying careers,” Martin said.
Be Pro Be Proud emphasizes to students the serious commitment and professionalism associated with the trades that are promoted through the program.
“Professionalism, promoting the industry and being proud of what we do is very important to us,” Crane said. “This program is reinforcing all of that.”