Fleets continue to worry about driver shortage

TORONTO, Ont. – The slow-growing economy and sluggish freight volumes have provided carriers some short-term relief from the shortage of qualified drivers, but the issue still remains one of the industry’s top concerns and arose frequently during the Surface Transportation Summit Oct. 13.

Rolly Uloth, president of The Rosedale Group, said the shortage of qualified drivers is the single biggest issue affecting his business.

“To get a guy in for an interview is an act of God,” he quipped.

Uloth expressed frustration that the government hasn’t done more to make truck driving a skilled trade, with bursaries available and an apprenticeship-type program. He suggested under such a system a 19-year-old could join a trucking company, start out as a shunt truck driver and work his or her way up by graduating to straight trucks, city tractors and eventually linehaul.

“We can’t make those rules, we can only ask our government to make it happen,” he said. “In my opinion, this is the toughest thing that is going to hit us over the next five years.”

He also acknowledged wages have to increase.

“If you pay 40 cents a mile at 50 mph, that’s $20 an hour. He can go to Tim Hortons and get that. The wages have to go up substantially to attract people. They’re professionals,” Uloth said.

Joe Ariganello, director of sales and marketing with Cardinal Couriers, said his company is developing new programs to attract and retain drivers. It’s especially challenging for Cardinal, since it focuses on overnight deliveries.

“Some drivers love it because they’re driving off-peak hours,” he said, but others don’t want to start their driving shift at midnight.

Asked whether there are too few drivers, or too many trucks on the road, Michelle Arseneau, managing partner of GX Transport said either could be true today, but in the future it will be a lack of drivers.

“Drivers are exiting the industry and young people are not coming into the industry, so we’re not getting any new blood,” she said. “Nobody wants their kid to grow up and be a truck driver. For city and daytime drivers, it’s easier – it’s the longhaul drivers (that are hard to attract). The way technology is now, they are being told when they can stop for a pee break, when they can do this and do that. It’s very unattractive and the compensation isn’t there.”

Trevor Kurtz, general manager of Brian Kurtz Trucking, agreed it’s tough to attract young people to the profession.

“Work-life balance doesn’t fit with this industry,” he said. “That’s the challenge with millennials. We work with our older guys even if they want to go down to three-day weeks.”

Kurtz doesn’t think compensation is the issue.

“They do make decent money,” he said. “All our improvements in efficiency have gone to the drivers.”

Ken Rosenau, director of operations with Rosenau Transport, said the issue is equally challenging in western Canada.

“Two to three years ago in Alberta if you had a heartbeat and a Class 1, we would hire you,” he said, adding drivers would start out in the yard and be trained before graduating to on-highway. “We have a 100% employer RRSP program and that’s not a big attraction.”


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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • Driver shortage? Maybe in seasoned drivers there is, but there are lots of new drivers from good, decent schools, not the soon to be extinct under MELT legislation”licence mills” who are literally begging for jobs.

    I graduated from a very good school with a 94% average. Of 12 subjects, all were As except for 3 Bs. I have a AC/Z licence and have given up looking. I now work in a noisy, dusty factory for minimum wage and it hurts me deeply inside every day to see the many tractor-trailers on the road.

    I applied to 12 good carriers that met my requirements, some others that did not too. They scrapped my applications as nothing was ever heard from them again in spite of follow ups or told me to get some more time behind a wheel and then come back.

    Easier said than done apparently. No transport driver ever came into this world holding a steering wheel in one hand and a shifter in the other. They got that way because someone gave them a chance. Maybe they had a few bumps and bruises in the beginning, every one has some bad luck at times, but someone had enough faith to keep them on the road.

    I did have a driving job for a short time. I absolutely loved it! I was so very proud of my tractor and of my carrier and probably would have done it for free if they had asked me to in the beginning. I never got any speeding or heavy braking reports, fuel use was good, always did my full safety inspections. I always got into the loading docks on my own. I did every delivery/pick up they sent my way.

    I had a couple of very small incidents. Nothing involving a person or another vehicle or any customer property damage and the total for repairs I was told was less than $15.00. (Trailer ABS marker light and a mud flap for my tractor.) I spent more than that out of my own pocket for 2 new wiper blades for my tractor which I never claimed for. If I had been given the parts, I could have even done the repairs myself. The financial and other penalties imposed on me by my carrier were tough but in a way I felt they were justified to impose some sort of penalty. ( I often wonder what happens to even experienced drivers who roll or crash their rig the first time?)

    I took extra lessons at my school to improve myself which I also paid for and learned something about myself that no one else had caught but it made things easier for me once it was found. I still got dismissed. Working since I was 18 and never, ever got the sack before.

    Now I am treated like I have the plague or ran over someone’s Grandmother. Being dismissed from your carrier is the kiss of death for a new driver. 16000 incident free miles and something minor happens and out you go.

    No one saw the tight turns and places I successfully navigated through, the rush hour traffic jams, construction zones, inner city streets, the idiots who put everyone at risk because of the stupid things they did around my tractor, miles and days away from friends and family and your home. It was just all part of the job.

    There are lots of good, newly minted drivers out there who could possibly be really great drivers if someone just gives them a chance to show what they can do and the opportunity to learn from any inevitable small bumps that might happen during the growing time along the way.