TRURO, N.S. — The trucking industry in Atlantic Canada may be looking a little different in the near future.
Earlier this year, the Trucking Human Resources Sector Council(THRSC) Atlantic, a not-for-profit organization that helps the trucking industry through a variety of HR platforms, joined forces with Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MP Scott Armstrong to discuss how the trucking industry needs more women.
As a result, THRSC Atlantic has launched a new campaign – called the Women’s Project – that is geared toward attracting and maintaining more women in the industry to not only balance the men-to-women ratio within trucking, but help women advance within the industry.
“In terms of the project itself,” said Kelly Henderson, executive director of the THRSC, “the focus is to work with and get women in the trucking industry and to provide them with opportunities to advance their career and by doing that, we hope that they will become mentors or coaches to existing women.”
It’s no secret that there is a imbalance of women in the industry – according to Statistics Canada, women comprise only 3.5% of professional truck drivers in Canada, while at the same time, women represent more than 47% in all occupations. This, coupled with the driver shortage problem, said Henderson, is another reason why the program needs to exist.
“There’s a serious gap in terms of potential opportunity to access a resource that we haven’t tapped into yet,” she said. “So we recognize that and the reality is that we have a driver shortage, we need good people and we know that there are people that want to be a part of our industry, women included and so obviously we want to provide the same opportunity to everybody.”
THRSC Atlantic has launched many campaigns similar to this in recent years, including the One Journey project that helped provide people who wanted to break into the industry with tuition and training to become a professional driver. The program focused on indentifying and breaking down social and economic barriers for eager entrants into the industry. Upon successfully completing the course, drivers were guaranteed employment.
“We have between 95 and 100% success rate in that project,” Henderson said.
A similar approach of looking at barriers and restrictions will be applied to the Women’s Project, according to THRSC.
Why more women haven’t considered a job in the field is a head-scratcher to Henderson.
“We don’t know why more women don’t work in the industry,” she said. “That’s what we hope to find out and understand ourselves. There’s a lot of us who have been in the industry and can’t imagine being in any other industry because we enjoy it. But obviously there’s a reason and it’s up to us to provide the opportunity to understand what that challenge is.”
The project will be doing lots of research on why women are hesitant to join the trucking workforce (not only as drivers but as those in safety, management and HR positions) whether it be the lifestyle adoption driving requires, the unfamiliarity to the industry, or the stigma of trucking itself.
Andrea Michaels, a long-haul company driver for Armour Transport based out of Moncton, New Brunswick, says truck driving is her dream job.
“I love getting up every morning and going to work, there’s nothing better,” she said. “The freedom of the road, and knowing that at the end of the day that what I’ve got at the back of the trailer is important to somebody, that’s the best part. Whether its paper, or medical supplies, it’s important to somebody that it gets delivered.”
Michaels has only driven truck professionally for four years, but her start in trucking couldn’t have happened at a better time for her.
Before driving truck, Michaels worked for a courier company for 15 years driving a cube van. But after her husband passed away in 2006, leaving her with two small children and a mortgage, and she got laid off suddenly, her best friend decided to get her out of the house. He took her on road trips to P.E.I. and Ontario when it clicked that she wanted to drive, too.
“I used to sit in the passenger seat and go with him,” she recalled. “And I looked over at him one day and pointed to his seat and told him I was going to sit there. I just fell in love with trucking right then, and decided then and there that that’s what I was going to do.”
And she did. Michaels got her licence shortly after and hauled fish for three years before joining Armour this April.
The most challenging part of the job for Michaels is being away from home, but she said it is manageable now because her children are older (in grades nine and 12) and she has remarried.
“I do mind being away. Sometimes you miss birthdays and there are some things you just can’t get home for, but when I am back, we make the most of every minute I am home,” she said.
Besides being away from home, Michaels said she thinks women are intimidated by driving big trucks which is the reason why there is a shortage of women in the industry. She offered up some advice to those flirting with the idea of driving professionally though.
“Because I’m so negative about myself, I’d tell women that if I can do it, anyone can do it. If you have any driving skills at all, you can do it,” she said.
Michaels said the Women’s Project and focusing on getting women into the industry is “long overdue and is much needed.”
The project will be ongoing for the next few years as the federal government has invested more than $242,000 over a three-year period to fund the program. Henderson said the council is so grateful for the country’s support and a tangible result of the project is hopefully to be seen in the next year or so.
Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface. All posts by Sonia Straface