CAMBRIDGE, Ont. – April 4, 2017 – Shelley Uvanille-Hesch wants to see more women working in the trucking industry, but she knows it won’t happen without those who are already there lending a hand.
That’s why in 2014 she founded the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, which recruits and mentors women in a profession that is overwhelmingly male. The group estimates that only 3 percent of Canadian truck drivers are women.
The federation has about 50 members, including men, and a handful of corporate sponsors, including the Highway Western Star dealership in Ontario. The group includes professionals who hold non-driving jobs in the trucking industry, such as dispatchers, managers and parts technicians.
“We really want to encourage more women into the industry. It’s a good job and there is a definite need for more truckers,” she said. “It’s a man’s world, but it’s coming around.”
Uvanille-Hesch worked her way up to the cab of a big truck without the benefit of an organization like Women’s Trucking Federation. The daughter of a truck driver, she knew from a young age she wanted to drive as well: “I always had the bug, but I wanted to be home with my kids.”
She compensated by driving a school bus; once her children were grown, she graduated to a motor coach, then a straight truck, and has been driving a Class 8 truck for 17 years. For the past 13 years, she’s driven for Sharp Transportation, a pharmaceuticals carrier based in Cambridge, Ont., that serves Canada and most of the United States. Her regular runs include Georgia, Florida, Texas and California.
As a senior driver at Sharp, Uvanille-Hesch drives a 2016 Western Star 5700XE she’s named “Destiny Star.”
“I love it. There is so much room and it’s a smooth ride,” she said. “I’m only 4’ 11”, but I can see over the hood and I can actually see out of the hood mirrors into my blind spots.”
A solo driver for a long time, she now teams with her husband, Chris, who earned his CDL so he could join her on the road.
“There is a lot of interior room for a team. I really like the bigger refrigerator and its location. It’s literally a home away from home,” she said.
She also praised Detroit™ Virtual Technician™, which comes standard on the 5700XE. The integrated remote diagnostic system records critical vehicle performance data immediately before, during and after a fault occurs. Within minutes, Virtual Technician gives drivers and fleets a preliminary diagnosis, recommendations and, if needed, directions to nearby service locations with the available parts.
“I highly recommend Virtual Technician,” she said. “It’s nice to know exactly what the codes mean, if I need to park immediately, need a tow truck or if it’s safe to get to a dealership.”
She also likes the attention the Western Star attracts: “It doesn’t matter where we go, people are always taking pictures of my ride and asking questions about her, even when I’m fueling. Quite often, I pop the hood so they can look at the engine.”
She’s put 191,000 miles on “Destiny Star” in her first year, and she appreciates it more than ever.
“It’s my first Western Star, but I wouldn’t want to drive anything else,” she said.
When her husband is behind the wheel, Uvanille-Hesch stays busy with the Women’s Trucking Federation, which is active on a number of fronts, from mentoring women in driving school and hosting career events at high schools to giving interviews to polish the public image of truckers. The federation also is involved in a number of charitable causes and appears at industry events to gain visibility and recruit women drivers.
Women truckers can do a lot to encourage newer drivers by mentoring them and becoming fleet and school trainers, she said: “They’ll get a wealth of knowledge from all angles.”
Western Star Trucks Sales, Inc., headquartered in Portland, Ore., produces tough custom trucks for highway and vocational applications. Western Star is a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America LLC. Daimler Trucks North America produces and markets Class 5-8 vehicles and is a Daimler company, the world's leading commercial vehicle manufacturer.
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