Opinion: Fleets need to change for truck driver search

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Shouldn’t Canada be running out of truck drivers by now?

Reports of a critical driver shortage have been echoed for decades. Surveys of fleet owners and managers continue to identify the issue as a top concern. Research conducted on behalf of the Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates Canada will be short 34,000 truck drivers as early as 2024. The average age of a truck driver creeps ever higher as well.

There are plenty of critics, including a senior U.S. economist, who suggest there’s no real shortage. They point to the cries of concern that ebb and flow with every economic cycle – and the cries are undoubtedly the loudest when freight volumes are on the rise.

But the concern is always there if you listen closely. Trucking, just like every other industry, must continue to renew and grow its workforce if it wants to thrive in the future.

There are initiatives that can help. Industry advocates echo strategies like the need to reach kids in school at a young age, highlight potential career paths beyond the truck cab, and clear immigration channels for eager workers from other shores.

As important as these strategies are, however, they all focus on the many positive things that trucking has to offer.

Make no mistake about it. There are plenty of opportunities to be had. Look no further than the thousands of Canadians who enjoy long careers at the wheel, or combine that experience with an entrepreneurial drive to become owner-operators or fleets. But these discussions often overlook systemic problems and shortcomings that force the all-important truck drivers to hand in their keys.

There isn’t a shortage of truck drivers. There’s a growing shortage of people willing to do the jobs as they exist.

The point was punctuated as I moderated a recent panel during a Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada conference. Legal and insurance experts were offering insights about what drivers should do if they’re told to drive unsafe equipment (find another employer), or if fleets refuse to cough up the proof of insurance needed to apply for another job (ask the insurer for a copy).

We wonder why it can be hard to find drivers, quipped Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council, who shared the stage with that panel. Should we be surprised by the challenge of finding good truck drivers given that concerns like these continue?

He’s right. Good drivers don’t hand in their keys because of a lack of opportunities. They leave when legitimate challenges and concerns are unaddressed. Sometimes they leave for good.

Some fleets don’t seem to think it matters. They continue a never-ending race to the bottom as they chase freight at any cost. They leave their drivers to live with issues like long dwell times without pay, shippers who treat those at the wheel like third-class citizens, and the challenges of any added workloads that accompany changing regulations.

Worst of all, new drivers who have yet to refine the skills they need are left to their own devices. As if everybody should be born with the skills needed to be successful on the job.

I guess fleets like these are confident that there will always be more truck drivers to be had, always someone new to fill the seat and fog a mirror no matter what the working conditions and pay are like. Until there isn’t.


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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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