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Industry's employment outlook for Western Canada strong with downturn in rearview mirror


WINNIPEG, Man. — Despite recent struggles in some regions of Western Canada, if you’re looking for a career in the trucking industry, opportunity can still come a-knockin’.

And according to many key players in the industry, that trend should continue in the coming years.

Howard Sired, recruiting manager for TransX, said he believes the employment outlook for Western Canada is strong and competitive, and that Alberta’s oil patch, which as seen tough times of late, is experiencing an uptick, with service providers again looking for drivers, albeit, not at the “inflated” rates they were prior due to the drop in global oil prices.

“In other words, they are hiring drivers but they are not paying the insane amounts of money that they were three to five years ago,” Sired said.
TransX, one of the country’s largest carriers, is currently hiring, with Canada and US long-haul drivers in the highest demand.

“Demand is high because of very strong international freight volumes,” said Sired, “and the pool of drivers interested in being on the road for two weeks at a time is lower than regional operations.”

Further west in B.C., Matt Berry, president of Berry and Smith Trucking, said his company is looking for company drivers, but the highest demand is for owner-operators who can provide a high level of customer service to their customers.

Berry agreed that the outlook for employment in Western Canada is encouraging.

“We believe the economy is picking up and the proof is in the volume of work that is coming our way,” said Berry. “Trucking is one of the best early indicators of what is happening in the economy, so what we are seeing with increased volumes over last year is a good sign.”

Berry believes confidence in the industry is greater now than it was before the economic downturn in Alberta, and that confidence has an effect on the business choices people make.

“Instead of ordering additional loads to have some surplus on hand, a company may choose to reduce or even cancel orders to avoid the risk and the associated costs that come with inventory that doesn’t sell,” Berry explained. “Lack of confidence or tightening of spending happens often in cycles when perhaps there was excessive spending or a market correction that was due.”

Berry said steady growth that is manageable and sustainable offers better opportunities for success.

Shelley MacDonald, senior manager of human resources and people development for Bison Transport, another of Canada’s largest carriers, said because trucking is so vital to the supply chain, employment in the industry normally remains stable.

“I would say the number of opportunities we have to join our business remains consistent year over year,” MacDonald said. “This is a busy time of year, as we often have post-secondary students join our team for the next several months.”

The Winnipeg-based company is searching for quality applicants, something it does on an ongoing basis. Positions in utmost demand at this time include those with an operational focus, such as fleet manager and dispatch, as well as licensed heavy-duty technicians. Owner-operators, teams and Canada/US drivers are also needed, as MacDonald said the industry continues to face a critical shortage in this area.

Sired added that he believes there is currently less demand for domestic drivers, something he said has been the case for some time now, but the need for Canada/US long haul drivers will remain strong – and in turn could spur companies to develop training programs to help new drivers get into the long-haul market.

He said drivers often look for positions offering higher wages with more home time, but those jobs are becoming harder to find.

“(Long-combination vehicle) operations in Western Canada has created some opportunities for the higher skilled and clean record drivers,” Sired said, “but there are less opportunities overall.”

MacDonald feels that Alberta will continue to be a western Canadian hub for the trucking industry, and that the need for solid people resources will also persist.

“We need to always be looking for ways to be more innovative, efficient and creative to meet customer requirements and build a sustainable future,” she said.

Though Edmonton trucking company Rosenau Transport is not currently hiring, Dillon Rosenau, Calgary regional manager, said experienced, professional drivers are always encouraged to submit a resume.

Rosenau said that in Alberta there are certain segments of the industry still reeling from the province’s downturn of the past couple of years, and layoffs in the oil and gas sector made it difficult for drivers to find work.

He added, however, that in major city centers, drivers remain in high demand.

“We’re seeing volumes pick up over the last year, but given the nature of our economy in Western Canada, we know how volatile things can be,” Rosenau said eyeing the future.

“But we’re cautiously optimistic that if trends continue, we’ll be looking to add team members across our network in various positions.”

Rosenau feels the trucking industry will face a significant challenge in the coming years – making the profession attractive to the next generation.

“The average age of a professional driver is currently 47, with that number expected to be 49 by 2024,” said Rosenau. “Regardless of the economic situation, there is going to be demand for drivers in the coming years. And it is our responsibility as carriers to find new ways of incentivizing new recruits to join our industry.”