Utah Women 20/20: Alternative Education For Female Independence

Oct 30, 2018

So you’re driving down I-15, casually looking around at the terrain, the other cars, other drivers. You glance inside the cab of the semi-truck you’re passing and something catches your attention.

“I’ve nearly been hit so many times because they’ll be looking in their rear-view mirrors at me and they’ll start sliding into my lane. And then I got to honk the horn or scoot over. It’s bad. Like, ‘Excuse me, please get back to what you’re doing.’”

This is Rachel Camp, a 31-year-old woman who’s been working as a commercial truck driver for almost three years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Rachel is quite rare. In 2017, only 6.2 percent of truck drivers were female. 

“Sometimes I might head nod [to the other women drivers], like, ‘Hey girl, I see you,'” she said.

I joined Rachel during the last leg of her work route she takes every week. Every Tuesday morning, she picks up her load in Logan, drives her allotted 11 hours and stops somewhere on I-15 in southern California. Truckers can only drive 11 hours at a time and then have to rest for 10. 

She wakes up between 4 and 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Drives a few more hours to Corona, California where she drops off her load and picks up a new one to bring back to Utah. She gets back into Logan around noon every Thursday.

I met up with her at the Maverick gas station in Wellsville. I climbed into her huge truck and we head to North Logan to drop off the rest of her load. Her cab is surprisingly spacious. Room enough for two she says.

“Yeah, my twin sheet has a hard time [fitting over my bed]. I really have to pull it over. It doesn’t fit all the way. So yeah, it’s pretty comfortable," she said. "I’ve got a fridge there, this pulls out [into] a table. Lots of extra cabinet space, more than I could use but this is actually, you can fit two people if they need.”

Rachel only works two-and-a-half days a week. She’s part-time and is completely financially independent. She’s paid off her car, has her own place, and can put away money for travel and savings. But that wasn’t always the case.

“And I was living with my parents at the time and I was like, ‘I want to be more independent’ and this seemed like the way to go and it has been and it’s actually been really awesome,” she said.

Rachel received her commercial driver’s license (or CDL) from Bridgerland Technical College in Logan. The training cost around $3,000 and took about two-and-a-half months to complete.

I asked her why she thought this kind of career doesn’t typically seem to appeal to women.

“I don’t know," she said. "I have not met a lot of women just saying they even want to do truck driving at all... And I think maybe there’s an unspoken assumption that that’s just what men do, you know what I mean? I’ve actually had a few men come up to me and their like, ‘You know, my daughter was thinking of doing truck driving’ and they thought it was cool seeing me, that I was doing it.”

So maybe women and girls just need to know that these kind of careers are an option. Maybe the empowerment comes from seeing a woman in a male-dominated field excel. Brad Sorenson, outreach and recruiting coordinator at Bridgerland, a technical college in Utah that offers programs ranging from heavy equipment operations to interior design, thinks this is partially the case.

“I think that is really one of the things that’s going to move the future towards opportunities that women will consider it, as they will see a role model," he said. "And they’ll see that, to be able to do something that they enjoy and they can be good at where normally they wouldn’t even attempt it because they thought, 'Well, women don’t really do this, they don’t drive trucks.' But when you see a woman that’s driving truck and she’s making a full living out of it and she’s incredibly good, yeah that’s just an encouragement to say, ‘Hey, if she could do it, I could do it.’ And we’ll see more and more and more of that–that they become the role models for the next set of people that are going through the program.” 

Bridgerland is one of seven technical colleges in Utah training students in careers that must have a job placement rate of 80 percent or higher. IT jobs are currently the most in demand. Closely behind there’s electronics, automotive manufacturing and welding.

“But welding is in very high demand because the average welder is about 57 years old and they are starting to lose welders but there’s still that great demand for welding associated with that,” Brad said.

And these are the types of careers that are typically the male-dominated ones.

“Though it doesn’t need to be, it really does not need to be, because women are now taking those particular classes and are excelling,” he said.

Brad says it’s changing simply because of supply and demand. Women are finding that there are job opportunities that pay well and they then receive training that qualify them for hire.  State Representative Becky Edwards from Davis County is an advocate for this kind of education saying women can increase their independence and quality of life.

“Yeah, I think what we’ve seen and the data shows that education is really the key," she said. "Education, whether it’s in a technical college, we frequently hear the example of welding. You know, getting a certificate in welding and then you are working in a high-paying job and then that transitions eventually into an associate degree or a bachelors in engineering and you’ve done those stackable credentials, as they like to say in higher-ed, and you have prepared an opportunity for your family to be stable, to be prosperous, and you’ve done it on your own.”

And for Rachel, she wants to encourage women to think outside of the box when it comes to their future, or just to not be worried if their natural interests don’t fall in line with the norm.

“I didn’t even think of it as non-traditional but now as I’ve been doing it, it definitely is," she said. "And I think it’s a great job and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s given me independence, it’s sent me financially which I love and I think that more women should check it out.” 

The Utah Women’s Giving Circle, a grassroots community with everyday philanthropists raising the questions and raising the funds to empower Utah women and girls. Information available here. And the Utah State University’s Center for Women and Gender, providing a professional and social climate to enhance opportunities through learning, discovery, and engagement. Information available here.