CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. -- The ongoing driver shortage was addressed in a session at the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA) conference here today.
A discussion panel was assembled at the Oct. 23 afternoon session to discuss both problems and solutions to the prevailing shortage issue.
Moderator Kelly Henderson, the executive director of the Trucking Human Resources Sector Council Atlantic, welcomed Angela Splinter, CEO Trucking HR Canada and Paul Easson, president of Eassons Transport to the discussion.
“I think it is vital that driver shortage is one of the topics that kicked off the conference,” said Henderson. “It shows that people understand that this shortage is a serious issue.”
Henderson reported that by 2020, the industry could face a driver shortage of 33,000 truck operators.
Splinter echoed this statistic by adding that the numbers do fluctuate from 25,000 to 33,000, but could realistically be higher.
“These numbers don’t include private fleets,” said Splinter.
In the past, well-documented research has been conducted that suggests a shortage is imminent, but numbers required quantification.
“We need to look at demand and productivity,” said Splinter, noting that in periods of higher demand, shortages will peak.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance has created a Blue Ribbon Task Force to tackle operational concerns, chiefly the driver shortage.
“We are working together to address the driver shortage,” Splinter said. “We are trying to do our part at a national level and while some people don’t believe there is a shortage, we absolutely see that there is a decrease in workers.”
“We keep hearing about the perfect storm or the demographic tsunami,” Splinter said. “We are facing pending retirements, a workforce with 20% of drivers over 54 years old and 12% under 30.”
Additional concerns the Blue Ribbon Task Force contend with are image and attraction issues.
Currently, only 3% of drivers are women and another 3% are immigrants.
“We need to start recruiting from non-traditional sources: women, immigrants and aboriginals,” said Splinter.
The task force has also developed a call to action, which has been dubbed BRFT.
First, the “Basics”, such as compensation and benefits, are reviewed. Second, “Respect” is addressed – the image of drivers needs to shift so it is recognized as a professional occupation. Third, “Training” needs improvement and last, “Family” has to be taken into account, as drivers deserve a fair work/life balance.
“We really need to amend the NOC code,” said Splinter.
A NOC code, or the National Occupation Classification, is a system that authoritatively ranks occupations in Canada. At present, truck driving has one of the lowest NOC code scores.
“We need to raise the bar,” said Splinter. “We can achieve this by updating these national occupational standards.”
Mandatory entry-level training, or an apprenticeship type model, according to Splinter, can improve the current standard.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force also initiated an inquest with young people and guidance counselors looking to understand what needs the upcoming workforce require.
“Youth are looking for occupations with environmentally friendly work practices, continuous learning opportunities and high-safety standards,” said Splinter.
Easson joined the panel to also address the issue from a fleet perspective.
He shared anecdotal evidence to support the current shortage issue concerns.
“I knew a driver who always said, ‘if you can’t tell me what the mission is, I can’t prepare for it,’” said Easson. “Drivers live in a short mission world and they need to know where they are going.”
According to Easson, the job can be demoralizing when truckers are forced to wait for their schedules or left idling at a shipper’s facility waiting for their truck to unload. Rearranging operations so dispatch plans are forward looking will aid wait times.
The issue of time was stressed when Easson addressed the conference attendees.
“Take long haul trips and break them up so drivers aren’t on the road and away from their family for a week or more,” said Easson.
Easson’s other suggestions to help build a stronger workforce with less turnover include maintaining a fleet with better equipment and rewarding the positive in the work environment.
“We need to celebrate good news, “ said Easson.
At Eassons Transport, employees are given the chance to reward coworkers with the Better Safer Easier reward.
“Employees can recognize their coworkers that help make their jobs better, safer and easier,” Easson said.
These simple steps, Easson said, will help alleviate subsequent shortage problems.