FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — For those who have never stepped foot in a big-rig truck, Kent Grisham said the experience can be a fascinating one.
“They’re enormous computers on wheels with really very comfortable and modern living quarters built into them,” he said. “So there’s a lot to be learned from getting to go hands-on.”
Recently, students at Fremont Middle School got that experience as they toured the inside of six trucks and learned how they worked in the parking lot of the school.
The tour was part of a collaboration between FMS and the Nebraska Trucking Association, of which Grisham is president.
“It started during the pandemic where students were looking for online content because they were doing so much teaching online,” Grisham told the Fremont Tribune. “So we came up with the idea of offering truck tours by Zoom, and we had some Fremont schools, some Fremont elementary schools in particular, that had signed up for that.”
When word started to spread on how much the students were enjoying the tours, Grisham said NTA decided to take it a step further.
“As we look at the national shortage of truck drivers, which is reaching critical stages, we know we’ve got to take our message of driving careers and technical careers in trucking to younger and younger audiences,” he said. “So you combine those two things and we said, ‘Let’s expand the truck tour program.’”
FMS counselor Kristin Henkenius said she was first reached out to by Dave Zelnio, director of operations for NTA, on having an event for the students.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity, coordinated with him to get this planned to come out today so the kids could see and touch the trucks,” she said.
Henkenius said many jobs in Nebraska are H3 occupations, or high-wage, high-skill and high-demand.
“(Trucking) is the number-one job on that list for projected openings,” she said. “There’s 3,000-and-some projected openings in the trucking and transportation industry, so this is just a great opportunity for our kids to be able to learn about this technical career.”
The 780 students were divided into groups of about 100 and cycled in and out of the parking lot to view their assigned truck and talk with everyone in the industry from CEOS to maintenance to drivers.
Participating trucking companies include Fremont Contract Carriers, Hill Brothers Transportation, Greater Omaha Express and Werner Enterprises.
“Werner brought their ‘Operation Freedom’ truck out that’s just dedicated to veterans from all the different branches,” Grisham said. “It’s also kind of a good opportunity to put that out on display with the kids, all things considered.”
Bryan Shirley, who has driven around 3 million miles for Werner during his 30-year career, was one of the drivers taking part in the FMS tour.
“I showed them the inside where we sleep at, where we work at, how we drive, all the electronics, how many computers are on the truck, about the brake system, the airbag system,” he said. “We talk about everything, blindsides, everything.”
Shirley said he believes the tours makes children more knowledgeable of the different types of trucks that can be driven.
“They enjoy the blowing of the horn, of course. It’s the biggest thing,” he said. “But they like the interesting things about the tires and stuff and what we haul and all of that.”
Aside from honking the horn, Henkenius said the students enjoyed learning more about trucking with the tour.
“This has them talking to people who are actually in the industry, talking to someone who is actually a driver, hearing what they do, being able to see how big the trucks are and being able to see the wheels,” she said.
While the tour isn’t meant to have children commit to a career in trucking, Grisham said it’s a good way to show them the different options they’ll have later in their schooling.
“Maybe they’ll remember this day and say, ‘That was so cool. I learned so much about what it means to be a professional driver or to be a professional technician in trucking,’ and they’ll sit down with their counselors, their parents, whoever, and say, ‘I want to look at this,’” he said.
Henkenius said FMS is always looking for different industries to provide hands-on experiences for its kids.
“So if there’s anyone in Fremont who can do something like this in our parking lot or a large gym where our kids can circle through to take these experiences,” she said, “we’re very open to that.”