Our Changing Face: Driver demographics are changing. They must.

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If asked to paint the picture of a truck driver, the image that first comes to my mind would look remarkably like Jerry Reed. I imagine that would be the case for many people who soaked in the story of Smokey and the Bandit at an early age. He was the Snowman to Burt Reynold’s Bandit. (Rest in peace, Bandit.) A straight-talking, hard-working, blue-collared hero if ever there was one.

And there was the trucker cap. No self-respecting trucker would be without one. Not then. In many cases, not today.

But that image is changing. Rapidly. A significant share of hires in recent years has involved those who have crossed borders in their career paths — immigrants, Temporary Foreign Workers, and new Canadians all.

In particular, a massive share of those who turn wheels for a living now wear turbans rather than the traditional trucker cap.

It was obvious to anyone that such a shift was happening, of course. Anyone who visits a truck stop or trade show would be blind not to notice the growth of drivers and fleet owners of South Asian heritage. But we at Newcom Media decided it was time to determine the true extent of the change. In an era of an intensifying driver shortage, fleets, trainers and recruiters need to know where new drivers can be found. It’s the only way they can prepare for the future.

With that goal in mind, our team of data analysts and journalists have in recent months poured over a quarter century of data from Statistics Canada’s Household Survey, measuring everything about drivers that we could – generating what is arguably the most exhaustive profile of Canadian truck drivers ever produced. We looked at age, gender, incomes and language. In particular, we focused on countries of origin.

We call the end result the Changing Face of Trucking.

The numbers reflect nothing short of a seismic shift. More than half the drivers working in Vancouver and Toronto are now from South Asia. One in four Canadian drivers count themselves as immigrants, and almost half of those are from India – particularly the state of Punjab. In 2016, the most recent data available, the number of immigrant truck drivers from India outnumbered the overall total number of immigrant drivers recorded in 2001.

To put this in perspective, only 3.5% of drivers were considered a visible minority in 1996. Visible minorities now account for one in every four.

It’s a big change, but things must change in a demographic sense. As the shortage of truck drivers continues to intensify, and employers look for the people who will fill the gaps left by retiring workers, recruiters need to look beyond traditional labor pools. Unless a new generation and diverse demographic groups are drawn to jobs with truck keys, our industry will grind to a halt. Unless we find a way to look past the ideas of “us” and “them”, we will fail to answer some of trucking’s greatest challenges.

Indeed, there are challenges. Not everyone welcomes the idea of drivers who are new to Canada. The mere picture of a driver in a turban will often generate angry letters and calls alike. Even those who want to attract immigrant drivers don’t know where to turn, or how to address the red tape of immigration rules.

It’s why we’ll be exploring the topic from every angle. In this edition and the coming months, our editorial teams at Today’s Trucking, Truck News, Truck West, Transport Routier, and Road Today will highlight the different trends that emerged. Our goal is to shine a light on the related topics and spark conversations about the opportunities and challenges.

But we won’t lose sight of the most important thing. While the appearance of a typical driver might change, we will be the first to sing the praises of all the people who keep Canada’s economy on the move. We welcome these straight-talking, hard-working, blue-collared heroes.

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

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