British Columbia’s human resources plan tackles shortage

by Harry Rudolfs

LANGLEY, B.C. – The B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA) is taking the driver shortage by the horns and developing a strategy to wrestle it to the ground. The just-released B.C. Trucking Industry Strategic Human Resources Plan takes a broad look at the needs of the province’s trucking industry, from driver attraction and recruitment, to licensing and training.

With Canada’s second-fastest growing provincial economy, B.C. faces a critical shortage of qualified commercial drivers. The BCTA estimates that the industry needs about 5,000 new Class 1 drivers annually, while the province issues only 2,500 Class licences, and not all licence-holders go on to become truck drivers.

“B.C. has a 3.9% unemployment rate which is virtually full employment – anyone who wants to work is working,” says Paul Landry, president and CEO of the BCTA. “The trucking industry is competing with the construction, manufacturing, oil and gas industries to mention a few. The competition for workers is intense and if we don’t put our best foot forward, the gap between what we need and what we have will grow.”

The plan is comprehensive and wide-ranging in its scope, dealing with issues and tactics as diverse as how to reverse the negative image of trucking and how to attract workers from non-traditional sectors. The paper also examines the need to establish training standards in driving schools and looks at the efficacy of instituting a probationary licence system.

The Human Resources Strategic Plan was the result of a year of committee and consultative work that included input from association members and Teamsters Canada. According to Landry, the plan moves beyond the problems identified by the Canadian Trucking Human Resource Council.

“BCTA has used CTHRC’s research as a platform to develop a road map to address the shortage through improvements in driver training standards, funding and driver licensing, and the promotion of careers in the trucking industry to under-employed workers, young people, women and aboriginals,” says Landry.

The plan specifically addresses provincial concerns and the unique trucking environment of British Columbia. The province is undergoing continuing growth as is the rest of Western Canada, but it has its own distinct role as Canada’s Pacific gatekeeper and the resulting trucking-related spin-offs.

Another interesting fact is that 86% of the 20,000-plus trucking companies in B.C. are small operators with five trucks or less.

This has a bearing on some of the plan’s recommendations, since smaller companies can’t be expected to provide extensive training and resources to new drivers.

At the same time, Landry thinks this report can provide a model for other trucking associations.

“We are hopeful that our strategic plan will also be helpful to the trucking industry in the rest of Canada – we are all facing the same problems to a greater or lesser degree.”

Interestingly, although drivers’ compensation packages, benefits and signing bonuses have increased (BCTA members responding to a survey reported annual salaries for their company drivers to be between $53,682 and $56,682), members noted a “large decrease” in qualified applicants over the last three to five years. The study goes on to say that even companies who lowered their recruiting standards (ie. years of experience behind the wheel), “only 27% to 29% of applicants meet these lower standards.”

The conundrum, therefore, is how to raise the quality and standards of commercial drivers and attract more professionals to the field. But Landry suggests that raising the bar is a win/win situation.

“We think licensing standards play a key role in terms of defining skills of truck drivers. Of course we know there are a lot of great professionals out there who operate safely daily. But the challenges of the future require us to improve training.”

Consultant Sylvia Holland took a look at training programs and best practices across Canada and in some US states. In particular she looked carefully at five Canadian models, from Nova Scotia to Alberta.

Holland recommends a blended approach to “establish curriculum standards and stronger training provider standards for this occupation in British Columbia.” She suggests that the provincial standard for entry-level truck driver training be similar to Alberta’s Professional Driver Certificate Program.

Holland also likes aspects of Ontario’s Apprenticeship Training Standard which she says could be immediately circulated to B.C. carriers “to provide employers with a standardized outline of essential competencies and entry-level performance measures that they can use to assess their new hires and focus their finishing training efforts.”

She also recommends the CTHRC’s 20 hour Train-the-Coach workshop outline and likes aspects of PTDI’s more detailed guidelines for evaluating specific skills.

Developing training standards and a curriculum is key to the strategic plan.

But the authors also realize that access to financial assistance is crucial so that recruits can receive good instruction. As the study points out, completion of the Earning Your Wheels program at one of B.C.’s two CTHRC-accredited driving schools costs about $11,000.

“(To) individuals who are underemployed, women entering the workforce, and new Canadians…an $11,000 education is often an insurmountable obstacle.”

The report goes on to say that some of these people may qualify for assistance under Service Canada’s Skills Development Program but this is not widely known. And, “because there is no minimum training standard, students of truck driving schools are not eligible for student loans.”

The release of the Strategic Plan marks an end to Phase I of the planning process and the beginning of Phase II – the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report.

To do so, the BCTA has begun a search for a director of career marketing to manage and coordinate its HR plan.

“We want people to be training for a career not just a licence,” says Landry. “We have careers to fill and careers to sell.”

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