TRURO - When Allison Theriault was a young girl travelling with her parents, she would look up at the big rigs rolling down the highway and wish she could do that.
Now 30, Theriault has been living her childhood dream for the past five years and is currently employed as a professional team driver for Clarke Road Transport in Halifax.
"As a little kid I used to look at the big trucks and I thought it would be a vacation job where I could roll down the road and listen to my music and nobody could tell me what to do. And I was always attracted to the big trucks because of that reason," she said Friday morning during a funding announcement for a new program aimed at recruiting and training more women in Atlantic Canada.
The announcement for the $242,741 program, to be used in Atlantic Canada, was made by Cumberland Colchester MP Scott Armstrong at Armour Transport in Truro as an initiative aimed at filling non-traditional female roles such as truck drivers, mechanics and other skilled trades dominated by male workers.
"We really need to grow the envelope of people who are engaged in this field because we are going to need these people," said Armstrong, who added that 30,000 jobs are going to be available over the next six years for truck drivers alone.
"So, if we are going to fill the growing labour demand that we have, particularly in places like truck driving ... we need to bring women into these non-tradtional roles."
Vicki McKibbon, president of the Transportation Division of Armour, said during the event that by 2021 an estimated 153,000 additional workers are going to be required in the trucking industry alone, "just to address the increase in demand, the current vacancies and the retirements in an aging workforce."
One of the biggest challenges faced by the industry is attracting new people, whether it is for drivers, mechanics, dockworkers, etc., and there is no reason why more women can't fill those roles, McKibbon said.
"The truck doesn't know and we shouldn't care," she said.
But because much of the challenge in recruiting more women to male-dominated professions has to do with the barriers they face, a big part of the new program will deal with that aspect of things, said Kelly Henderson, executive director of the Trucking Human Resource Sector Council.
"Advancing women in non-traditional positions in the trucking industry will focus on understanding the barriers to the existing workforce and identify how we can remove them to provide opportunities for women to advance in their chosen trucking career," she said.
"The funding will allow the Trucking Human Resource Sector Council to invest in people, in particular women, to bring them into an industry that needs and wants them."
And that is welcome news for professional female truckers such as Theriault and her driving partner
At age 25, Mapplebeck has been driving for about a year and a half after previously working in a low-paying job in the female-dominated service industry.
Her father was a trucker, however, and with encouragement from Theriault, Mapplebeck decided to also try her hand at the big wheel.
And she has no plans to turn back, especially now that she is earning upwards of $60,000 per year.
"Now I've got a great job with great pay," she said. "What's not to like about it? You get to kick back and roll down the road. You see a tonne of places."
Both women drivers said they do encounter the odd comment or male-driven stereotype as to whether they are capable of handling a big rig. But they believe even that will fade out as the older drivers retire and a new generation of male drivers take to the road.
In the meantime, Mapplebeck said, she will continue to take the comments in stride.
"I just kind of laugh it off. You have to," she said.
"I'm doing well for myself so I'm going to keep on keeping on."