Understanding Canada’s truck driver shortage

Angela Splinter

Is there a shortage of truck drivers in Canada? This question often sparks a heated debate – and more questions.

Is the labor market so tight right now that there are too few people to drive trucks? Are employers not doing enough to make the job attractive? With all the driver training, licensing, and safety requirements, is the bar too high for anyone to qualify?

They’re good questions, but whether there is a driver shortage isn’t a matter of opinion. The data provides the answer.

Trucking HR Canada’s Labour Market Information (LMI) provides ongoing actionable intelligence pertaining to the supply and demand of labor. Our own economist conducts regular analysis of Statistics Canada data, labor force data, our own surveys, and more, ensuring an accurate assessment of our industry’s needs.

Here is what we know:

  • There are nearly 20,000 vacant truck driver positions in Canada.
  • 61% of employers report they can’t find all the drivers they need.
  • 7.4% of all truck driver jobs are unfilled, compared to 3.3% of other non-driver jobs.
  • The unemployment rate among truck drivers is much lower than the rest of the workforce (6.2% for truck drivers as compared to 9.8% for the rest of the workforce). However, if every currently unemployed truck driver were hired into a vacant position, there would still be more than 11,000 unfilled jobs.

All economic indicators show a shortage of drivers. What there is no shortage of, however, are opinions and offers of quick fixes stemming from high-level politicians (who do not necessarily understand our industry dynamics) all the way to drivers themselves.

(Photo: iStock)

This is an ongoing, complex issue.

Truck fleets are having to adjust to freight conditions that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago. With e-commerce, the number of regional and local driving jobs is exploding, creating opportunities for drivers to work closer to home. Longhaul driving jobs today have a much higher vacancy rate than shorthaul – 9.4% compared to 5.9%.

Regulations play a role. The required use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) and speed limiters means that some fleets have to add capacity in order to cover the same number of miles and maintain their service levels.

Training is an issue. Every year, about 28,000 new (inexperienced) drivers enter the industry to replace drivers who retired or otherwise left their jobs. These new workers require entry-level and specialized training before they can even start to drive independently and be ready to take the place of those experienced drivers who are leaving. This is a challenge compounded by the pandemic.

Of course, there are always experienced drivers who are looking for work but can’t find a job that works for them.

So yes, there’s a shortage of drivers. And changes in the economy and freight markets haven’t made things easier with the passage of time.

We clearly need better ways of matching up job seekers, both new and experienced, with available work. Up-to-date and accurate LMI data, like the kind provided in this article, can go a long way toward creating a common understanding of the imbalances between the supply and demand for workers.

Trucking HR Canada is committed to monitoring and providing access to these important indicators as we support the development of evidence-based solutions to our industry’s challenges.

I invite you to use the resources on our site to help manage the pressure you may be feeling as you look for drivers. If you have questions, please reach out to theteam@truckinghr.com to learn more.

 

 

Angela Splinter

Angela Splinter leads Trucking HR Canada, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to addressing the human resources challenges and opportunities in the trucking and logistics sector. Angela is a frequent speaker at industry events sharing innovative HR best practices, trends and insights. As a respected leader in HR, Trucking HR Canada works with various associations, government departments and industry professionals to ensure employers have the skilled workforce needed for today and in the future. Feel free to learn more at truckinghr.com, subscribe to our newsletter and follow us @TruckingHR for the latest tips, practical resources and more. You can follow Angela directly at @AngSplinter. And we can be reached by e-mail: info@truckinghr.com.

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  • In 1980 a local truck driver made $7.87 per hour plus time and a half on sunday and after 44 hours. A local truck driver working 4 days on 2 days off made $23,000 plus per year. At the time a R N made $11.50 to $14.00 per hour
    . A fireman made $8.00 per hour student $2.65 per hour. A O T R truck driver could make enough to buy a house in London in 2 years in brampton in 3 years. In the last 3 years insurance for new truck , bus drivers. The Federal gov needs to set min pay rates based on years of experience across Canada including truck drivers from the U S . All truck and bus companies should have to put 2 cents a km into a fund to insure new drivers for all trucking companies with less than 100 trucks. Also all taxi uber and wheelchair vans should put 1cent per km into a fund for gov run insurance.

  • Definitely an interesting read and analysis. However, the first step to tackle the issue in my opinion is to form a referendum, presented to Ottawa with a bill that Truck Driver is a Profession. Of course, that would open up a whole new can of worms. Truck Driver schools or the foreign driver program is an absolute disaster to our industry. Accident rates have climbed to unprecedented amounts and are now to the point that a new driver, an owner operator or a new small fleet can not afford insurance anymore. I am referring to “Facility Insurance” of last resort. The foreign workers program only facilitated the big carriers while the small guy is left behind. It created unfair freight rate and fuel competitions. Again, the small guy is left behind. In my opinion, a minimum one Year apprenticeship program needs to be established. The program should also include basic logistics, mechanical and customer service skills. Ottawa, accept truck driver as a profession and we will create a safe and professional work force with competitive wages and benefits. We implement this and I guarantee you that there will be no trucker shortage. I am more than willing to discuss this in detail and would look forward to have the opportunity to do so.

    • You are one hundred percent correct. In 2006 the fed gov did a study that said local truck drivers should make 1.6 times min wage and O T R truck drivers should make 1.9 times the min wage plus medical and overtime pay after 10 hours per day. We need to have the Ontario gov set up new insurance program for new truck , bus drivers. Limit imported truck to a max of 2 per company per year on a contract like the farm worker program from April to dec ( 8 months) Many former truck drivers are homeless.

  • If there is indeed a shortage of drivers, wouldn’t we be paid more? Basic supply and demand scenario. I constantly monitor the hiring ads & I don’t see compensation that would mirror a driver shortage.

  • Shortage of drivers OR shortage of good or qualified new drivers?

    Throw in the low wages relative to hours worked; pay has not kept pace with inflation as with many other blue collar jobs; lifestyle and perceived image of the job. US age restriction of 21 (FYI new drivers aged 45 to 55 have the worst stats for newly licensed commercial drivers – see MTO stats); Driver Inc. ; companies willing to hire “steering wheel holders” and hope their CVOR doesn’t get too bad.
    In order to get quality training, someone needs to have saved up $10,000 plus take 2 months off work. There is no equivalent OSAP as there is if you want to go to college.
    The list goes on…..

  • HI ,please share with everyone you can.
    I am looking for work this morning and have come to find out that companies who have 15 or less trucks in there fleet can not hire a driver they need or want. example I have to return to my former company and ask their insurance company for an L O E letter for the last 3years . Here on the north shore of NB work, its hard to come by .
    The company I worked for closed last year , and after 3 different places in the last 2 weeks with the same story it is plain to see that large companies are using this to closeup smaller ones . I am starting into my 48th year as a
    short and long-haul driver . GUYS and GIRLS if we do not close our logbooks for 31days and all stay home , we will not have any say for whom we can and want to work for, and how big our pay check has to be to survive .

  • I was recently looking for a new Company as a Long Haul Driver…& what I found threw out Southern Ontario was quite surprising to me. Most Companies I contacted, seemed to offer pretty high “per mile” rates, but these rates were Only offered to a Company Driver, who wishes to be Incorporated or be a “Driver Service”, even though you would be driving company owned equipment. According to CRA You are a Personal Services Business if you agree to work as a Driver for any company that does Not take Income Tax & normal Deductions. The CRA also says that you are Not entitled to any deductions that an Owner Operator normal would. I don’t own the truck. I don’t pay the fuel. I am a Company Driver, who expects all deductions & holiday pay & paid stats….like any other Employee. My question is why are all these Trucking Companies allowed to get away with paying EMPLOYEES as sub contractors, driver services, etc..?? If you don’t own a the Truck, you are an employee & should be paid that way. This is an area where the Federal Government needs to stop this practice from happening.

  • I have never been a professional truck driver but I did look into it over the years since my aviation job has brought about numerous bouts of unemployment.

    Here is what I learned.

    Professional drivers point out very low pay along with very high hours, and the driver is pretty much legally responsible for everything.

    The employer demand for ”experience” seems unrealistic. Entry level truckers won’t even get hired unless they have some sort of accredited training, meaning that just having the required license gets you nowhere.

    Many potential new entrants look at the situation and go elsewhere for employment.

    Experienced drivers get worn out and just leave.

    And why would the experienced ones who are unemployed and looking for work not get hired? Once again, this points to employer expectations.

    I am retired now but thought I could maybe do it on a part time basis. Having looked at it one more time, always the same problems, not experienced, low pay, and on it goes. Not worth even trying, not even with a free provincially sponsored course.

    I think the industry has to take a good look at itself.

  • What you are missing in your article is the Insurance companies have taken control over who the trucking companies can and can not hire. We are forced to hire drivers with a minimum of 3 years experience, this ties our hands a great deal and does not help the new drivers coming into this industry.

    • I think you don’t tell the whole story.
      Pay more for driver insurance, and the insurance companies will not “ties our hands”.
      The greediness of the trucking companies is the real and the only reason for the shortage.

  • Hi
    I am a trucker and have been talking to a lot of potential trucks.
    There are a lot of AZ licensed drivers that can’t find work because of a criminal record and the challenging pardon/record suspension process is delaying people from applying.
    Most that I have spoken with have waiting 3-5 years and then find out they have a $50 fine outstanding, so they have to wait another 3-5 years to apply for a Pardon.
    Trucking companies that want to fill positions should hire these people or hire those that have not been in trouble with the law for 5 years or more.
    I read the US have adapted this policy, so should Ontario/Canada.