COLLEGE PARK, Ga. -- The trucking industry workforce, long dominated by male drivers, is now dramatically changing.
Bottom line: the traditional workforce is quickly "aging out."
But there's a new twist on who is getting behind the wheel of the 18-wheelers and the big dump trucks - truckers, over 3-million of them, form a unique workforce.
They spend weeks on the open road and deliver everything industries and consumers need - no matter where. But the drivers are 94 percent men and their numbers are dwindling.
"The average age of the American truck driver now is between 53 and 56 years old, so we have a generation that is going into retirement and we really have to focus on how we are going to recruit the next generation," said Kevin Reid, CEO of National Minority Trucking Association based in College Park.
The association has 7,000 members.
With the trucking industry predicting a shortage of more than 175,000 drivers by 2025, the focus is shifting toward recruiting women - now about 6 percent of all truck drivers on the road.
And the spotlight is on African American women.
For Johnessa Odom, its because she loves the open road and loves the challenges of driving a big rig or a dump truck. She started 4 years ago and said it's something she always wanted to do. She said she earns a good living and has the full support of her two grown children.
"I definitely love running the show. I feel like I own the road," Odom said, adding, "I've driven all up in the Midwest; California; New York--I've pretty much covered half the map."
For new drivers like Lynda Mitchell, a mother of four, her new career as a trucker will start with a 6-week training course.
"I've been researching it for about 3 years now, if not more, and it is very interesting to me," Mitchell said. "I want a challenge, something different."
But while Odom is now a veteran and Mitchell is just getting started, the trucking industry is now focusing on attracting younger drivers to fill the driver gaps.
Reid said recruiting minority women into the driver's seat is now a major challenge for the industry.
"We are trying to bring awareness to communities across the country to help people to go into minority communities and speak to both African American and Latino women," Reid added.
Reid said recruiting minority women into the driver's seat is now a major challenge for the industry. But with cheerleaders like Mitchell and Odom, the pathway for African American women to drive the big rigs is there - they just latch on to it.
"I'm very excited about it," Mitchell said. "I can't wait to get started."
"I'm going to keep driving. I love my job. I love the freedom," Odom added. "I just love being behind the wheel. I love the trucking life."
It's a mindset that hopefully will excite others to give it a try.
(For African-American women 21 years of age or older, the opportunity to start a career as a truck driver starts with a training course, a written and driven exam and a commercial drivers license)