Addressing B.C.’s labor shortage takes innovation

by David Earle

Road transportation isn’t the only sector suffering from a labor shortage. The B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA), which represents both freight and passenger carriers in our province, has been focusing on ways to address the shortage of commercial vehicle drivers for years. The industry is also challenged by a scarcity of support workers – technicians, mechanics, dispatchers and other personnel are all in high demand. Other businesses are hampered too, whether we’re talking about entry-level restaurant servers or experienced construction workers.

What’s happening in B.C. with the labor pool and trucking?

In 2018, we were at about 4,100 vacancies in trucking during the first quarter. Our industry made strides strategically to engage women, continued to promote trucking as a career, got closer to mandatory entry-level training than ever before, and saw driver wages go up 7%. And this year, we are at 5,700 vacancies for Q1.

The aggregate data is downright scary. Last year, the province’s employment projection indicated 900,000 new jobs created due to retirements and economic expansion over the next decade. Filling those jobs will be 450,000 new entrants to the workforce, 250,000 international immigrants, and 76,000 workers moving to B.C. from other provinces. The balance would come from an increase in B.C.’s labor force participation (how many persons 15 years or older are working or looking for work). B.C. would have to see that level increase to 74% to meet demand.

B.C.’s labor force participation was 64% in 2012 and is projected to be 63% in 2022 and 61% by 2032. That’s bad news.

Inter-provincial migration? As of Q3 last year, B.C. stopped gaining workers from other provinces. That’s worse news.

So what does this mean? The bottom line is over the next 10 years we now have an additional supply requirement of 130,000 workers, while still counting on 76,000 coming from other provinces. Of note, WorkBC states, “the additional supply requirement is assumed to be met through a mix of higher labor force participation [but their own projections show a lower rate], lower unemployment [despite being at or near full employment currently] and/or higher productivity/automation.”

Higher productivity has historically meant “work more hours of overtime.” That won’t work for
our industry.

Platooning and automated vehicle technologies are equipment-based solutions for trucking, but realistically these won’t be broadly available immediately, and the labor shortage is now.

To help fill this gap, BCTA is working with our members to identify new and emerging opportunities for increasing efficiency. The innovative use of telematics is one example. Using data from real-time, traffic-based navigation, HOS monitoring and route planning, IFTA reporting and calculations, and predictive repair and maintenance, companies are already streamlining their operations to optimize their current fleets, improving efficiency through fewer on-road incidents, on-time deliveries, reduced downtime, and less cargo theft.

Practices like “over-the-air” engine software updates are exciting additions to newer model trucks that turn downtime into a short stop.

The question is, how do we translate innovation happening now to broad uptake by fleets?

Jobs that technology is replacing – load handling, container stuffing, warehouse workers, forklift driver – aren’t those young people coming into the labor force are most likely to pursue. But increasingly high-tech solutions that are revolutionizing the transportation industry are creating new opportunities to attract a tech-savvy cohort of workers.

Based on B.C.’s labor market projections, our companies should be exploring how telematics, increased efficiency, and new technologies can help them re-envision how they’ll operate and who they need on board over the next 10 years and beyond.

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