Tales of the Trades shares just some of the millions of stories in the skilled industrial trades, shining a bright light on the hard-working tradesmen and women who build, operate and maintain the world we live in. We also focus on the individuals and organizations working hard to advance industrial sectors and ensure their success over the coming decades.
Meet Clarissa Rankin. Clarissa is a truck driver, motivational speaker, and social media influencer who shares behind-the-scenes moments, stories, and more about her work life on the road, as well as her role as a mother and wife. With her energetic personality and a focus on authenticity, Clarissa has gained over 1 million followers on TikTok with her video content and continues to grow her community and remind them that they’re capable of anything.
What led you to pursue a career in the trades, and specifically your chosen industry?
I went to school for four years with my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. My husband and I ended up having a child who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, also known as half a heart. When he was born, I had to become a stay at home mom, so I decided to go back to school online. My husband was like, “I think I’m gonna go get my CDL.” So he got his CDL, he came out of school making over $45,000 a year, and he only went for three weeks – I went to school for four years, and I could barely make $32,000! So I thought, maybe once my son gets a little bit older and he goes through all his heart surgeries, we’ll start a trucking company. Initially I wanted to be a freight broker to assign my husband’s trucking loads, but then once I got behind that steering wheel of an 18-wheeler… baby, it was ON! I was like, no, I want to drive this thing, I want to be a trucker. It was just exciting, and it still is to this day.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
One of my favorite things is when they look up, and they react because “you’re not a man, you are a woman!” A girly girl – they’re not expecting that. It’s part of changing the industry. Every time I step into that driver’s seat, no one is expecting me to be the driver. Nobody. Another thing that makes my job so exciting is how I feel, powerful, because I’m providing for the world, providing for my area. You name it, I have hauled it! It makes me feel like a superhero.
What does it take to be successful at what you do?
You have to be able to handle your job, because it is very physical at times. To me, even on the toughest days, I don’t need no man to come over to help me, I can handle it. I get it done. And I do it just as good or better than some men. It makes me feel proud to be able to back the truck up and control it and handle it. It makes me feel very successful when I go to these places, and all of these men are struggling like crazy while I’ll treat my child like a delicate little flower. [laughs] What makes me feel even better about my job is I’m doing it and showing other women you can do it too. As long as you just believe, you can do the same thing.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
When people first looked at me, as a woman, I got denied. When I first got my CDL, I had six interviews, and I got denied at every single one of them because I was a female. One of the men, from the time I walked in, looked me up and down… you can literally tell that my words are going in one ear, out the other. By the end of the interview, he said, “Well, you’re too pretty to be a truck driver. I’ll hire you as my assistant.” That’s what he said to me. And I said, “I’m gonna be a truck driver.” So that’s the first thought: “No, you’re too girly. You’re too pretty. You cannot do this, there’s no way.” I got denied so many times. I never gave up. I just kept saying “No, let somebody give me a chance.” But a lot of the places did not believe in me at all as a woman driver.
When I finally ended up getting hired a month later after all of these rejections, it was a woman who hired me, and she hired me because they were looking for a CDL driver. She was like, “Look, I don’t care that you’re a woman, I need somebody that can drive this truck with hazmat”, which is an endorsement that you can haul chemicals, and none of her drivers that she hired had it. In the midst of getting turned down by all those other jobs, I ended up studying to get my hazmat! I feel like if it wasn’t for them turning me down or wasn’t for them believing in me as a driver, I wouldn’t have went to get my hazmat endorsement.
What are your thoughts on the state of the trades right now industry-wise?
I do see that the industry is growing. A lot of people are saying they can’t afford to go to college, that trade jobs are making more than college students. People are shying away from going to college and are picking up trade jobs to really gain that experience and light, but it takes us as social media influencers to help push it. We take any chance we get to help build it up, and I’m noticing people are attracted to it to help gain more income compared to going into college.
What I love about social media is you can push that into any household and any age range. I got followers from two years old, and their moms are buying them trucks all because they are watching me every day. I think one of my oldest followers was 87 – she is a little old lady! It’s just pushing the aspect of this is how this field looks. Get a career, make some money, travel the world! I really think we’re gonna change the industry to help show and bring life to in a positive way compared to what it was from years ago.
Any advice for those thinking about taking up an industrial trade?
I always tell people to consider a trade job because a lot of the time, you’re doing what you would LOVE to do, not what you are forced to do. Because it’s like an art! You’ve got to be really skilled to be able to do this work. As a mechanic, people love to fix your car and see you back on the road with a smile and knowing that you’re safe on the road. Get into your mind what you want to do and follow that dream.
Last but not least: what’s your favorite way to spend your free time?
I love to entertain. I feel like my personality cannot be in a little box. I love to be an influencer. I love to motivate people to uplift a spirit. I love what I do as a person! When I get done working in the truck, I come home and be a mama, but I’m not just a mom – I’m the home girl! People are able to see that I love being that mother, wife, worker. It gives people an inside look that “if she can go and do all this all day, then I can get my butt up and do this too.” And I have had people tell me, “you have motivated me, you gave me courage.” That’s my joy!
Our thanks to Clarissa for making time to share her story and industry insights with us.