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We need creativity to deal with the driver shortage, not repetition of past practices

The driver shortage, and what to do about it, is once again rising to the forefront of fleet executive concerns. The American Transportation Research Institute’s latest release of its Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry report shows that fleet executives rank the driver shortage as their third most pressing concern. That’s up from the no. 5 slot the previous year.
The shortage is not necessarily tied to the resource challenges imposed on many industries during an economic upturn. Our current upturn is fairly slow compared to previous economic recoveries. Hiring challenges are being exacerbated by baby boomer requirements, lack of interest in the industry by the younger generations and possibly the impact of CSA implementation.
Can we do a better job of solving the driver shortage this time around? Listening over the past few months to carrier executives discuss how best to deal with the shortage, I’m not feeling confident the shortage is going to be solved.
In his book the 33 Strategies of War, best-selling author Robert Greene argues that what limits people and corporations in meeting new challenges is the inability to confront reality, to see things for what they really are. “As we grow older, we become more rooted in the past. Habit takes over…Repetition replaces productivity.”
I fear the industry is marching in the same direction. For example, at the recent Ontario Trucking Association annual conference I was surprised to hear Steve Russell, chairman and CEO of Celadon Trucking Services Inc., actually question if people preferred to collect Unemployment Insurance rather than return to work as drivers. Surely we can do better in addressing the driver shortage than blaming our woes on unemployment insurance.
Same goes for ongoing industry hopes to address the driver shortage by recruiting qualified drivers from overseas. As James Menzies, executive editor from our sister publication Truck News, reported last month many carriers insist they can’t find qualified Canadian drivers willing to accept the pay and lifestyle afforded by a career as a long-distance driver. Bringing experienced drivers from countries in Europe and the Middle East would fill that need, according to proponents. That can only be part of the solution. In North America it’s estimated we could need up to 400,000 drivers. How much of a dent can we expect immigration to play?
A better approach is to finally address the competitiveness of driver pay and benefits relative to other professions. But it can’t stop there. Assuming it’s just an issue of more money may simply leave us with higher-paid drivers who still hop from job to job during the good times and continue to exit the industry in utter frustration during the bad times.
First we must get a closer read on how many drivers will be needed over the next few years. Then we must directly address why the industry is failing to attract new drivers.
We need to do a much better job of both raising awareness about the industry among the potential driver pool and addressing the issues that reduce the industry’s attractiveness. I see a strong Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council playing a central role in both endeavours and hope the industry rallies around the CTHRC now that Ottawa is pulling back on its funding for the council.
I also like ATRI’s suggestion that the industry develop programs that advance work/life balance, healthy lifestyles and family relationships. As carrier respondents to the ATRI report pointed out, drivers, particularly those in over-the-road applications, could benefit from resources to maintain family connections, protect their health and reduce stress while on the road.
The industry must also adopt more sophisticated recruitment practices. The most common hiring mistake is finding drivers who have the right skills but the wrong personality for the job on the hope that attitude can be changed by coaching, incentives, rewards, etc., according to the folks at Caliper Research. The firm conducts personality assessments and has done more than 3.5 million of them. Caliper has researched the personalities of local, regional and long-haul drivers and found some significant differences. Caliper believes that people are actually hard to change; their personalities are already hard set before they come in for the interview. In their own words, job techniques can be taught: drive and motivation can’t.
It does make for new ways of thinking but as Greene argues, if you want to deal with new challenges you must cut yourself loose from the past and open your eyes to the present.

Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
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28 Comments » for We need creativity to deal with the driver shortage, not repetition of past practices
  1. David Brown Fleet Recruiter - Yanke Group of Companies says:

    Not sure if we will ever find the real reason for the driver shortage but just acknowledge it exists and move on. We spend an incredible amount of time talking about it or conducting surveys on it and never really get that much closer to an answer. Just work the problem. Lets look at the simple facts. CTHRC states that 90% of todays truck drivers in Canada are immigrants, that’s 9 out of every 10 drivers hired today. Don’t ignore your audience. As for fishing out of the same pond that is what most carriers continue to do when they don’t recruit outside the box. The Cream of the Crop drivers today are working. They know that we are not out of the recession and their experience tells them to stay put. We continue the search for drivers in a “catch and release” kind of way, well, most recruiters do, I didn’t say all. The Simple Truth is we ignore more than our audience we ignore demographics. For what it’s worth.

  2. Stephen Large says:

    THERE IS NO DRIVER SHORTAGE!!! There are many GOOD truck drivers who refuse to drive truck at the current rate of pay and be treated like a slave! Don’t believe me? Offer about $30.00 per hour and supply a company credit card and a company-issued cell phone and then treat your good drivers like you would treat your CEO ( and remember that you need your drivers all day, every day, but your CEO could disappear for a week at a time without changing the way your company functions ), and then get rid of your poor drivers. You will have tons of good drivers ( remember those guys who could drive for years and never run over anything or wreck your truck and they could change their own tires and do most of the repairs themselves-on the side of the road? ) want to work for you! Your safety record will improve overnight, your insurance company will be happy, your customers will be happy, your repair bills will be much less and your equipment will last longer. David Brown is correct when he says “The cream of the crop drivers today are working”. YES, they are operating a bulldozer or backhoe or some other piece of equipment on a construction site- for $30.00/hr and they get treated like they should because the company they work for knows that they NEED those guys every day! They are not foolish enough to hire someone from another country, who does not have a clue what to do, doesn’t understand/speak english, and try to pay them $10/hr! The people who actually do the work need to be the highest paid people in the company! The truck drivers, the bulldozer operators, the mechanics, the welders, etc. YOU NEED THESE PEOPLE! The only way to get better people behind the wheel is to pay them accordingly and treat them like you need them. You do need them!

  3. Al. Moore says:

    The Government has deregulated the industry and over regulated the drivers. They now work for wages that were paid in the 90’s. Maybe its time to pay by the hour at a decent rate and abolish pay by the mile. Why should drivers not be paid for doing paperwork, fueling, border crossings and equiptment inspections? If they were paid properly for thier time, they would be more willing to get back into the driver’s seat. Just a thought.

  4. Michael Gower says:

    When there is a “shortage” of a commodity what happens to the cost of that value….Business 101 says it goes UP in value. Need proof, lets look @ the price of corn and soybeans. Ethanol and bio-diesel production have increased their consumption thus there has become a “shortage” of those two commodities and their value/cost has more than doubled. Driver wages on the other hand are stagnant @ best and many drivers are still trying to recoup the cuts they took when the economy slowed. Driver shortage my ass!
    Still don’t believe me. When’s the last time you read anything from a credible news source about a major manufacturer that couldn’t get trucks to get their goods to their customer. Try NEVER! Driver shortage my ass!
    The alleged “driver shortage” is in fact what is know in the industry as “driver churn”. If the fleets would solve (I used “would” because they know how to do it) their HR problem, the revolving doors would stop spinning and their trucks would be full. Fleets should focus on their turnover rate as their numbers regarding that should be a true embarassment to them!
    Importing truck drivers is not the answer!

  5. Gene Emslie says:

    Day to day relations with drivers is the Operations Group. Everybody needs to be fed, heard, acknowledged etc. Taking care of drivers one to one takes healthy operations, healthy operations takes healthy managers, and on it goes. A good friend once told me a 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4. You have to have a full tank to even think you can begin to look after someone else. Who fills the tank? Do you know your tank is empty or pitifully low? Do you know where to get your tank filled? Rarely does a driver fill the tank of an operations person or an operations person fill the tank of the manager. It is never just money as any study will show. Am I being heard? Am I respected and appreciated? Are my needs being considered? Dan Baker has preached this message for years and if you have attended one his sessions you just have to look around the room and decide for yourself, don’t look at Dan, look at the attendees. This industry attracts incredibly hard working, intelligent and compassionate people and we forget it’s about the people not the freight. If I’m meat then I’m looking.

  6. meslippery says:

    When someone says what can we do about the driver shortage?
    The cone of silence comes down over there head and they do not
    Hear Stephen Large or Al Moore if they did it would be problem

  7. Gene Emslie says:

    Many skilled trades are challenged to find enough people, increased economic activity will bare this. Why should trucking be any different? There are lots of issues at play, doesnt the challenge make us be better in many ways or at the very least show up or shortcomings and areas for improvement.

  8. First of all, as a driver who logged over 3,000,000 accident free miles, I have to admit the trucking industry ( been involved my whole life) has take an out of control down spin, we as drivers, definetly are under appreciated , I have always given the drivers lives priority over dispatching, I have found giving our drivers some leverage with dispatching to their driving practices, some are go getters, some drive their 10 hours and go to bed, I have adjusted the dispatching to drivers and their individual driving habits to match their trucking style, all with a goal of driver retention and safety, admittedly we being an exclusive steel hauling company, it is difficult finding steel haulers over van drivers, some drivers dont have the desire , some dont need or want to put forth the effort to learn the trade, it can be satisfying to be able to cover all aspects of the trucking industry, vans, flats, tankers, reefers. The HOS is another difficult arguement, some of you may remember when you could split the sleeper birth, 5 on 5 off, just my opinion, they should bring it back, thanks Jeff Robertson, Op Mgr Capacity Transport

  9. Tom Large National Recruiter O.T.R. says:

    Mentioned a couple of articles back, it is time to make driving a profession. It was suggested that an apprenticeship program be developed to train and develop tomorrow’s trucker. This would apply not only to the current stock of potential drivers in Canada, but also those from foreign countries. Also a program should be developed insuring that all truck training schools in Canada are uniform in their appoach to teaching the skills of driving. There are many schools out there that have some questionable teaching skills, and also government driving examiners who are very questionable in graduating applicants. What passes in Ontario may not make it in British Columbia.
    I recently read what Coastal Pacific Express in Surrey BC is doing for their drivers and under the Leadership of Jim Mickey he has created the perfect environment for drivers. From recruitment, training, equipment, dispatching and care for his drivers. He has created the right fit for his drivers. It isn’t always wages and work hours that keep drivers sometimes it is the human, steady touch that keeps drivers going. I applaud Jim and his crew for what they have done for their drivers.
    I feel that making trucking a profession will not only recruit potential drivers and but keep drivers in the environment of trucking for a living.
    The governments in all provinces should be assisting in this movement and not always slamming the industries. And all truck companies should be advocates for their drivers and potential drivers out there.
    Tom Large National Recruiter for O.T.R. Mississauga Ontario

  10. Tony Godsoe says:

    Hi I was at one time a driver In Mississauga Ont in the 70’s For Brazeau Transport and moved to Nova Scotia in 1976 and drove for Smith Transport. The equipment back then was not the best or very well Maintained but I drove. I left the industry for almost 20 years and became a paramedic. After That career I called Brookville Transport and told them I had not driven a rig for 20 years and they said come on Back. They sent me with a driver trainer for approximately 1 week and then i was on my own driving long haul to the U.S. I have been trying to re enter the industry But when the companies hear That I haven;t Driven for awhile They don’t want to give you a chance or any refresher training. If the companies want good driver’s with good customer service skills, Then start giving Canadian people a chance and increase the pay so a driver can have a life style. Brookville starved their driver’s on the road and come payday there was no money in the bank for your family back home You may have driven 5000 miles but still no pay. The companies have to reassure a driver he can earn enough money in any province to provide for his family.No wonder all the Driver.s want to go to Alberta where they can make a decent living. Also Ice Trucking when they have the experience. We do not need more immigrants to take over the industry Just look at Toronto. Thanks Tony

  11. Brian McKay says:

    I have to agree with Stephen Large when he said there is no driver shortage, but there is a shortage of GOOD, DEPENDABLE drivers!! I have had my trucking ticket for 47 years(33 as a long-hauler)and have driven approx. 3 million miles accident-free. I got sick about 4 years ago and landed in the hospital, therefore missing my renewal date for my “A” license. Upon my release from the hospital, I never thought about my “A”. Recently, I contacted the MTO in Toronto, spoke to some clown named Ivan, who assured me that if I renewed my “Z” & passed the Medical, I would be granted my “A” ticket….no problem. After I did as he’d asked, I called him and that’s when the sh– hit the fan!! He denied ever saying this to me and that if I wanted my “AZ” back that I’d have to go back to square one and learn how to drive a semi!!! This is after having driven semi for 47 years!!!!! I cannot put what I said to him here, but you can well imagine!! I told him that you’d take some kid that’s right out of school, put him into a truck driving school for a few weeks and then hand him a set of keys and send him to California or wherever. This, Ivan character, agreed with me, but that the way it’s set up!! CRAP!!
    I always prided with the fact that to my knowledge I was NEVER late with a load unless it was weather related, and we all know that just can’t be helped. The MTO disgusted me so much that I basically said the hell with it. Sure, I’d love nothing more than to get back “out there” for a couple more years, but I’m damned if I’ll kiss any bureaucrat”s ass to do it!!
    I would just like to WARN others drivers to watch their back when dealing with the MTO!!

  12. Mike says:

    Wages that are not keeping up with inflation and not being paid for work done are the real reason nobody wants to work in this industry anymore. Throw in new regulations that seep to crop up just about every year and it’s not much of a mystery why. I still can’t figure out why the rule of supply and demand hasn’t applied yet.

  13. John Heimlich says:

    There is NO TRUCK DRIVER SHORTAGE. There is a shortage of people willing to work in trucking that has seen incomes of drivers fall a full 50% in the last quarter century when you factor in the cost of living. I have looked into this industry and come to the conclusion that this “shortage” is largely a fiction created by large trucking companies to churn even more drivers. Pure economics. If there was a shortage of drivers then wages would be going up, and they are not. So qualified people (who can choose many careers) steer away from trucking. No pun intended. I will believe there is a “truck driver shortage” when I see empty store shelves, and not before.

  14. Tony Godsoe says:

    The driver shortage problem would fix itself If Trucking companies gave orientations Like the Military. Offer ride alongs and let the younger people see what they may be getting into Be honest when they cannot get home Tel them it is not a 9-5 job but 24/7 if that is what it takes. Tell them they will miss Christmas at home or Birthdays or Funerals of Loved ones because they are on the road making miles but not money. Tel them they will miss Saturday nights out with their friends because they just went on a long haul and could not get home Tell them they have to drive in all bad weather and dark nights to make appointments with very little pay. And finally if companies would accept older driver’s back into the industry we may be able to show some professional attitudes in the industry. Most trucking companies just want cheap labour not pros with good customer service skills or at least they do not want to pay for it. To be a professional Trucker you have to be devoted to the industry and when you leave home for the day d’ont say you will be home at 5. never set a time line or make promises you cannott keep. And again for very little pay.

  15. Mark Perkin says:

    The fact that folks who Lou meets with on an ongoing basis are still doing nothing except paying lip service to this problem which has been ‘discussed’ ad nauseam should tell all of us that those in charge still have and never will have any intention of doing something about it.
    How many years have we seen this very same topic ‘talked’ about with no movement whatsoever?
    The usual suspects will chime in with their ‘there’s no money for raises’ or ‘we pay our drivers a fair wage already’ or ‘the current markets don’t allow us to pay drivers more’. Or they’ll spout off some rhetoric about how they are supposedly looking into improving their pay packages by offering more ‘bonuses’ which usually are never attainable or are rigged so they never pay out…
    Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat…
    Michael Gower, Stephen Large and others have clearly shown here why drivers are fed up and have no interest working for bottom feeding dinosaurs whose pay rates and practices are still stuck in the 80’s.
    We don’t need “more creativity to deal with the problem” as Lou would suggest. Drivers are fed up with that sort of BS.
    Show us the proper money we deserve with the cost of living today and actually PAY IT for every hour of a driver’s time spent working.

  16. Harry Rudolfs says:

    Lou: Here’s a pretty radical link I found on facebook last night. Intermodal and ports drivers generally get a pretty raw deal (just look at their trucks), but I think conditions are a little better at Canadian terminals. I recall long long waits to pick up cans, and sometimes bad order chassis. And a lot of messed up situations and bureaucracies.. One time a van full of six guys pulled up to tell me I was dropping in the wrong spot…six CN guys driving around in white hats bugging drivers on the clock…in my opinion CP was a little better but not much…never did much work out of the ports.

  17. we need more money to attract more drivers.

  18. Rickey Gooch says:

    Lack of driver education about CSA and job hopping burns these guys out faster and faster.

  19. Billy says:

    When I read the title of this article the thing that came to my mind first was isn’t it some of the “creativity” that started this mess. Then cross reference that with a recent posting by Kevin Snobel regarding Living Benefits and the first thought in my mind reading that was I just talked to a guy the other day that works for a company I did over twenty years ago, back then those benefits were part of the pay package for all of the drivers but the guy I spoke to told me no they don’t have that anymore.
    For far to long the driver has been under-appreciated and under-compensated and as a result talented people go elsewhere. The transport business is not at all reticent to pay sales people well in excess of a hundred grand a year plus expense account and other perks and benefits and so on but not the drivers. The attitude still exsists that truck drivers are a dime a dozen and that anyone can do it, I submit niether is true. Sell all the freight you like but eventually it still comes down to someone has to drive the truck. Look at all of the damage on the equipment running around and tell me those are the guys you want in your trucks but that is the pool they keep wanting to draw from and then ask why there is a problem. As long as that attitude persits so will the problem and it can’t be solved by putting people in the seats who don’t really want to be there but will to it for now as a survival tactic or means to another end. People who don’t like the job and don’t really want to do it won’t be good at it and will not stay long term in most cases.
    Trucking espacially long distance is not easy it takes it’s toll on family, personal life, health and more. Some of the things involved can’t be avoided such as layovers or working weekends and such but some things could be at least done differently to try to accomodate driver’s needs a little better and a few companies make good attempts at it but to many still have the attitude that hey you don’t want to do it tough you will or I’ll get someone else and one way or the other you will pay whether it’s less miles, lousier trips, whatever you’ll pay.
    If it weren’t so easy for every idiot that knows nothing about trucking to get into it like it used to be we would all be better off.

  20. Stephen Large says:

    Hey, Billy- it is obvious to me that you understand this industry very well! I agree with all your thoughts. I wonder why Lou and Dan and some of these guys keep writing these blogs without ever responding to any of the comments??! I guess it’s because people like you and I are “a dime a dozen” and are not worthy of a response!!? It is too bad that they didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to acknowledge comments from people who love to drive truck and have been doing it for many years and millions of miles!

  21. Patrick Smith says:

    Lou, the position or title needs to be recongized as a trade or certified trade to attract people to our industry. You know the rest, your not no spring chicken to this subject. Now my question to you is how to we implement this? Or how do we get this rolling? I don’t know about you, but I’m not getting any younger. Would like to see it better for the future generation of workers(drivers) thanks for your time.

  22. Paul Francis says:

    Wow! Love all the comments from true truckers. Not much said from those who accept their $10.00 per/hr with a grin. Most of them don’t even read this magasine if they can read english at all. I drove for 20 years and developed cronic pain in my lower back which will get worst as I age. What’s the trucking industry going to do for people who develope these health problems. Workers Compensation doesn’t see this as their responsability, and the trucking industry forgot about me. At 45 I now have to return to school and learn an office trade, even though I can’t sit for long hours anymore, at least I have the luxury to stand and walk around when the pain gets too great. We need to give drivers the respect they deserve by making sure they’re being looked after when a health issue arises, without the bureaucrap they have to go through to get compensated. Almost 2 years after I filed a claim to Work Safe BC I got a check for $17,000 to compensate the cronic pain I will feel for the rest of my life. Drivers need to know that the trucking industry will be there for them in the event of a health issue. That might help in getting younger people interested.

  23. mike cator says:

    as a driver and owner-operator for 30+years i feel that if the drivers were payed better wages there wouldn’t be any so called shortage.with retesting,medicals,logs,paperwork just to keep an az licence a profesional driver should exceed 30.00 an hr.but try and find one that pays over 18.00 it’s a joke,i earned over 18.00 with benefits over 20yrs ago.i personally won’t give any one my experience and jump through hoops for crap wages,and i have a clean az and cvor.

  24. Tony Godsoe says:

    It is Christmas and last nite on my way home i saw a number of big rigs on the road moving food supply’s and other goods to the warehouses for Boxing Day. I wonder how many of these driver’s were home for Christmas. Boxing day in Nova Scotia is Tuesday and the goods are in the stores Thanks to our driver.s

  25. donald faiers says:

    Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in. The comments posted are well written and the theme appears to have a common denominator, i.e. too much work for too little pay.
    There is also the other elephant in the room.
    As Brian Mckay mentioned , after 33 years in the industry he found the response from M.T.O. other than helpful when he attempted to upgrade his licence.
    The treatment of “mature drivers” i.e. those turning 65 having to be retested annually does remove a lot of excellent people from the industry.
    The cost of this exercise can be upwards of $1000.00
    I have contacted my MPP several times on this matter and the answer is always the same. He will take it up in caucus.
    As the only jurisdiction in Canada and possibly North America to have this regulation ,why are we singled out?
    Does anyone have a good answer to this question ?

  26. Getting drivers from overseas? Are you kidding me? And this is the mentality we have deal with. Do you see it? Do they actually believe that this is better, more profitable, more efficient, or preferable than just treating the existing professional base of drivers that is already here? Give me a break! It’s really not rocket science. I can’t speak to the issues concerning the 0-0’s out there because I have no experience, but I have done long haul for a company. First let me say that dispatching plays a bug role in this also, there are a lot of guys in control that have no business being there. Anyways, as a driver for a company and I am gone on the road for (x) days, than every single moment I am in that truck I should be paid for it. Period. No I do not expect to be paid while I am sleeping, but while I am awake and in your equipment than yes by all means and what is fair and right I should be paid. If your dispatchers can’t keep it together to keep me moving seamlessly hire better ones. Don’t penalize the drivers. Pay us a decent wage, respect us, and you won’t have a shortage.

  27. Computer dispatching. Does any company have this?

  28. John Heimlich says:

    To Mike Cator:
    I want to say Thank You for confirming what I have said here on my postings that twenty years ago the truck drivers made exactly the same amount of money that they do now without a raise.
    $18.00 twenty years ago and $18.00 an hour now (at best).
    In real terms you would have to be earning about $32.00 to $34.00 per hour just to keep up with inflation, so in real terms the incomes of drivers have gone down by almost half.
    Remind me to NEVER consider trucking as a career until things improve for drivers.
    Then companies scratch their heads and wonder why there is a “truck driver shortage”, NO, what there is are a talented group of people that should be in trucking that follow careers elsewhere and in other industries.
    Not exactly rocket science.
    You want good quality applicants at your door then start paying drivers what they are worth or they knock on the doors of other industries and careers.

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