TORONTO, Ont. – The slow-growing economy and sluggish freight volumes have provided carriers some short-term relief from the shortage of qualified drivers, but the issue still remains one of the industry’s top concerns and arose frequently during the Surface Transportation Summit Oct. 13.
Rolly Uloth, president of The Rosedale Group, said the shortage of qualified drivers is the single biggest issue affecting his business.
“To get a guy in for an interview is an act of God,” he quipped.
Uloth expressed frustration that the government hasn’t done more to make truck driving a skilled trade, with bursaries available and an apprenticeship-type program. He suggested under such a system a 19-year-old could join a trucking company, start out as a shunt truck driver and work his or her way up by graduating to straight trucks, city tractors and eventually linehaul.
“We can’t make those rules, we can only ask our government to make it happen,” he said. “In my opinion, this is the toughest thing that is going to hit us over the next five years.”
He also acknowledged wages have to increase.
“If you pay 40 cents a mile at 50 mph, that’s $20 an hour. He can go to Tim Hortons and get that. The wages have to go up substantially to attract people. They’re professionals,” Uloth said.
Joe Ariganello, director of sales and marketing with Cardinal Couriers, said his company is developing new programs to attract and retain drivers. It’s especially challenging for Cardinal, since it focuses on overnight deliveries.
“Some drivers love it because they’re driving off-peak hours,” he said, but others don’t want to start their driving shift at midnight.
Asked whether there are too few drivers, or too many trucks on the road, Michelle Arseneau, managing partner of GX Transport said either could be true today, but in the future it will be a lack of drivers.
“Drivers are exiting the industry and young people are not coming into the industry, so we’re not getting any new blood,” she said. “Nobody wants their kid to grow up and be a truck driver. For city and daytime drivers, it’s easier – it’s the longhaul drivers (that are hard to attract). The way technology is now, they are being told when they can stop for a pee break, when they can do this and do that. It’s very unattractive and the compensation isn’t there.”
Trevor Kurtz, general manager of Brian Kurtz Trucking, agreed it’s tough to attract young people to the profession.
“Work-life balance doesn’t fit with this industry,” he said. “That’s the challenge with millennials. We work with our older guys even if they want to go down to three-day weeks.”
Kurtz doesn’t think compensation is the issue.
“They do make decent money,” he said. “All our improvements in efficiency have gone to the drivers.”
Ken Rosenau, director of operations with Rosenau Transport, said the issue is equally challenging in western Canada.
“Two to three years ago in Alberta if you had a heartbeat and a Class 1, we would hire you,” he said, adding drivers would start out in the yard and be trained before graduating to on-highway. “We have a 100% employer RRSP program and that’s not a big attraction.”
James Menzies is editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies