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Award-winning carriers discuss dealing with the driver shortage

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Fleet executives from Canada’s most-recognized trucking companies gathered together on a panel titled “How to attract and retain professional drivers” at the first annual Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) conference on Feb. 24 at the Sandman Signature Mississauga Hotel.

The panel offered a different perspective from the first panel discussion of the day that focused on the recruitment struggles and strategies of the private fleet industry, since it consisted of representatives from the for-hire side of things.

The panel included Garth Pitzel, director of safety and driver development at Bison Transport, Alex MacKinnon, COO of MacKinnon Transport, Caroline Blais, recruiting manager at Kriska and Geoff Topping, director of recruiting and retention at Challenger Motor Freight.

To kick off the discussion, each panelist was asked to describe what they think the root cause of the driver shortage is.

Topping of Challenger said that the perception of trucking to the general public is ultimately to blame.

“I believe it’s the perception of the profession,” he said. “I think (the driving profession) unfortunately been watered-down. People think of (driving) as a career of last resort. They don’t think of it as a real profession and a real job and it truly is. It is a job where someone can make a good living and look after their family. And be proud of what they’re doing. And as an industry we need to push and continue to raise the awareness of that and raise the profession back to what it used to be.”

Topping added that he thinks the industry is missing the mark with the younger generation because of the age limit set on cross-border drivers.

“We lose an opportunity there to recruit those young people,” he said. “Because by the time they’re 21 they’ve already had a pathway planned for themselves and they’re making regular money and they don’t want to start over.”

Blais of Kriska agreed with Topping, but added that she thinks the industry has dug itself into a hole because of the way truck driving is perceived and how it haven’t corrected that perception yet.

“In North America, every industry is struggling to find people,” she said. “I know sometimes we may have tunnel vision and think it’s just us, but it’s not. There’s been so much press over the years about (the industry) wanting more drivers and it being a second career, that I think we’ve created a culture for our industry inadvertently that suggests that we are so desperate that we will take anybody. It’s hard to correct that perception and it’s hard for people outside the industry to understand that people in trucking in driving and non-driving roles are educated and intelligent. In our fleet, we have a number of drivers that have university educations. I think people would be surprised to know that and we should be getting more of that out there to attract more of the right people that we want to have.”

Pitzel of Bison said that he thinks the key to solving the driver shortage is to change the driving culture completely, and getting long haul drivers back home in a timely fashion.

“I think as an industry we need to make the working conditions better. Today, asking somebody to work 2-3 weeks in a row on the road is not okay,” he said. “And I think we need to be up front with them about wages because they want to know what they’re making and how much they are taking home to their families every week.”

Of course, the driver shortage has significantly altered the industry, but for big businesses that were represented in the panel, it’s mostly affected recruitment strategies.

Topping said that Challenger has been trying a multitude of different ways to find new drivers, like putting recruiters both out on the road and having recruiters in the office and sending people to schools to get students educated on the various careers in trucking. But he stressed that the biggest change the company has made since the shortage has been working with those who are applying to and are interested in Challenger.

“Some people want to be out on the road for weeks at a time and others don’t,” he said. “So we try to work with them to see what works for them so we can keep them on board.”

Blais said that Kriska’s recruitment has evolved and has put more focus on working with entry-level drivers.

“At Kriska, we have a philosophy that it’s easier for us to grow a Kriska quality driver from scratch than it is to try to rehabilitate an experienced driver with issues,” she said. “We believe that the company that has the best drivers, not necessarily the most experienced drivers, but the best drivers will win.”

MacKinnon said that for his business, driver referrals are the best way to combat the shortage.

“Today we put a lot of weight on our referral bonus,” he said. “By far, our best recruiters are our drivers. When one of our drivers tells another driver how awesome it is to work at MacKinnon Transport, it’s a little more proactive than when I tell a driver how great it is to work at MacKinnon. We used to do sign-on bonus, and we still have a small sign-on bonus….but we found that when we put a lot of weight on the sign-on bonus, a lot of those individuals jumped at the next sign-on bonus, which was frustrating. So we use our current fleet to help promote MacKinnon.”

All panelists agreed that carriers need to work alongside reputable training schools to fight the shortage together.

“We need to work with the schools and we do work with the schools to find out and make sure the student is the right student and to make sure they are prepared for the lifestyle they get when they become a driver,” Topping said. “Students need to know they aren’t going to be home as often as they used to at a previous job. They need to know the psychology of the job.”

MacKinnon said what he wants and what he believes would benefit carriers in the long run would be open communication with carriers and schools.

“We want to know from the schools where (the students’) attitude was during the training,” he said. “We want to know things like did they participate in class? Are they safety-minded? We don’t just want to know the driving skills only.”

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11 Comments » for Award-winning carriers discuss dealing with the driver shortage
  1. Mike says:

    Hey guys there are older drivers out there that want to get back into driving but it comes down to money and respect of home time. I myself is looking to get back into driving again did it for 22 yrs but I want to know how much I’m going to earn a year and what kind of home time I’ll have. Those are key factors for the older guys. I work at a manufacturing plant and there is quite a few ex drivers that work there all worried if we go back how much will our pay change. Through the years my pay cheque was never steady a company loses a contract and then says we have to cut pay or look at companies that just decided it was time to cut pay all together. That was the last company I was with so I decided to get out of trucking but I want to go back but I want a guarrentee that my pay won’t get cut. You have older drivers out there who want back in but don’t want the crap so if one contacts sit down with them and ask them what they want and maybe you’ll get a few of these old guys back like myself.

  2. Henry Scott says:

    Funny how not a one of them mention money or benefits. These people want you to stay and reset on the road and pay you nothing, waiting at a customers and pay you nothing, customs same pay you nothing. The best one is when you sit and they do not pay you for the first 24 hours. Most do not pay you to do a pre trip, fuel, or to do paperwork, they pay you for the mikes you run and if you are lucky it is by the hub , if not they go postal code to postal code and burn you that way. It is the only industry in North America where your time is worth nothing and most companies expect you too do work for free. And that is what is wrong with this industry. And then after you drop a load and wait 5 hours for dispatch to give you another load , guess what they do not pay you for that either. Please stop skirting the issue of money and blaming all these other things. Because lets be honest if a driver added up all his or hours in a year most would be lucky to make minimum wage and that is why you cannot find drivers. And lets be honest the only reason you want new drivers is that you can pay them less and make more money off them.

  3. tony godsoe says:

    Money and benefits is where it is at, I left trucking for this reason who wants to call their wife at home on a 36 hour reset,to tell your wife you cannot move but are not being paid either. You are at a customer being treated like shit but have to wait without getting paid for hours, then you have no pocket money to eat with, have not showered for days then when pay day rolls around you see less than a few hundred bucks come in this is reality I spent 19 days on the road one time with a maritime company Houston Tx and all over and only cleared $1400 take home do the math Companies and you wonder why drivers leave get real .

  4. Dave P says:

    There needs to be a fundamental shift in the industry. It’s not only that trucking has a poor reputation in the public eyes…it has a poor reputation in the trucker’s eyes.
    Shippers, receivers, customs and MTO/DOT treat truck drivers like dirty criminals. These big companies have the clout to force attitudinal changes in some of these camps, but they don’t.
    The public environment is against trucking. There is insufficient parking, rest areas etc.
    Per diems, reimbursed expenses such as received by travelling executives, airline pilots etc needs to be introduced and accepted.
    The bar needs to be raised with regard to driver training. I know the government is working on that, but they will set the bar so low that the problems we see on the road every day won’t be alleviated. The incompetence, lack of ability, lack of manners, and overall lack of professionalism displayed by many, many drivers lowers the reputation and value of all of us.
    The sad truth is that these companies need every idiot seat filler they can get, and the companies and the system are designed for the lowest common denominator. Quality drivers may stand out to their immediate supervisors, but that’s as far as it goes.
    There is very little pride left in the industry, and the blame goes equally to all stakeholders- government, enforcement, carriers, customers and drivers are all at fault.
    If you’ve ever gotten out of your truck wearing sweat pants or sandals, or if you have ever had to have someone else back your truck in for you, you are the problem. Not the solution.
    Its too hard for companies to address the real industry problems, so they sit at these little panels and pretend they are trying, when all they are doing is window dressing, attempting to get press exposure for their company, and promoting their self importance. The real problems go unmentioned and unaddressed.

  5. Trish says:

    I would love to become a long distance transport driver! I’ve checked into several truck driver training schools and have found the price for the course(s) astronomical! I don’t belong to any special interest groups that can get assistance for funding so I am just left with a dream. One day, I will make that dream come true.

  6. Dennis says:

    Every year we hear the same story, “We can’t find good qualified drivers” . Just go out in the yard and ask the guy who has just spent 3 to 4 weeks on the road, been lied to by some sneaky dispatcher that will tell you anything to get his bonus, treated like dirt because some DOT guy just hates drivers and only see’s them and their company as a cash cow, Truck Stops that make you feel like your an inconvenience to them and then running your ass off for 16 to 20 + hours and getting paid for 5 or 6 because they pay by the mile , and cheat you on that as well. Most people driving rigs are professionals, all they want is to be is treated as such. I’ve run all over N.America for 30 yr’s and have worked for some very good company’s and a few not so good. We need to make a decent living, that means being paid by the hour, not starved by the mile, and we need benefits. This job has to be one of the hardest on it’s employee’s as well as their families but many folks still love doing it. Company’s don’t need to hire some expensive consulting firm to tell them why no one wants to drive trucks any more. The answer is standing in front of you, tired , beat down from the road, pissed off because of all the lies they’d been told by dispatch and just wanting to go home. If you just ask I’m sure they’ll take some of their valuable time to tell you what’s the problem. Give it a try.

  7. R Kirk says:

    $10,000.00 to get a license is just silly. Worst is reading these comments of skilled drivers. I think I will stay where I am. Government pays some of the Driving School if you were laid off from your previous job. It’s called second career. I am older, laid off and looking to be trained.

  8. Michael Gower says:

    There’s no shortage of drivers, it’s a “retention” problem>Fleets are able to hire enough seat warmers they just fail to “retain” them all. If they put more effort into driver retention (you already have them in your stable) as opposed to trying to attract new recruits they would probably spend less money. Obviously it’s cheaper/less expensive to recruit than retain.

  9. pierre giasson says:

    trucking…. work 100 hours , log 70 hours,, get paid for 50 hours

    there is the problem in a nutshell!!!!

  10. Claire Ravenwood says:

    Like everyone, we work to make money to pay bills etc and hopefully put some aside for our retirement.

    I’m new at this. It’s a second career and I think I have yet to make a penny, sorry, nickel.

    I have been on my own on the road since the beginning of June. I add up the amount I have made and the hours I’ve been driving or sitting and it isn’t much. Add in the things we have to have like safety boots, hard hats, supplies for the time on the road and expensive truck GPS units and there’s not much left. I had a 3 week old GPS begin to smoke heavily and was afraid it would catch fire so out the window it went at night. New one was $600.00 with tax. I didn’t make that much that week to even cover the cost of the unit.

    Sent on a long run with short hours on Thursday and the client would not accept delivery until Monday. Spent the entire weekend at a truck stop. Don’t think I’m getting paid for that one either.

    Do I like the job? For the most part yes, but it would be nice if we were paid by the hour like a friend of mine is. He’s home every night where I am lucky to spend 2 days at home.

    I live l alone so it’s not a family hardship but it would be nice to make a little money at the end of it all.

  11. Chris says:

    Why is it that the industry, consultants ect always ask what can they do to retain and recruit more.The years go by and it’s the same always.Pay by the hour for all hours or leave your office job and go live in a truck box for crap wages yourselves. It’s getting old guys.

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