Canada short 25,000 truck drivers by 2023: report

John G Smith

Truck drivers

TORONTO, Ont. – Canada is expected to be short 25,000 truck drivers as early as 2023, representing a 25% increase over the unfilled vacancies in 2019, Trucking HR Canada reports.

Unfilled jobs in 2018 are also estimated to have cost the trucking industry about $3.1 billion in lost revenues, slowing planned expansions by 4.7%.

The findings — outlined in The Road Ahead: Addressing Canada’s trucking and logistics industry labor shortage, a study produced in a partnership with the Conference Board of Canada — are particularly troubling when compared to other business sectors.

“Canada is facing a serious shortage of truck drivers,” says Kristelle Audet, principal economist with the Conference Board of Canada. Since 2016 alone, the number of truck driver vacancies has more than doubled.

Canada’s trucking industry faced an average job vacancy rate of 6.8% last year – double the Canadian average of 3.3% and higher than all industries outside crop production. Longhaul truck driving jobs faced a 9.4% average vacancy rate. And while truck drivers represent 46% of the industry’s overall employees, they accounted for 63% of the sector’s job vacancies.

Bison Transport, for example, has 30 unseated tractors and more than 40 un-filled truck driving jobs, says vice-president of human resources and people development Linda Young, who is also chairwoman of Trucking HR Canada. The shortages themselves are throughout the fleet’s network, although there are undeniably regional needs in areas such as Alberta.

“Where we have expressed growth plans, we find that shortage even worse,” she adds, referring specifically to operations in Mississauga, Ont., and calling for action on the labor shortage.

Sixty-one percent of the 352 employers surveyed by Trucking HR Canada last fall said they have had trouble filling truck driver vacancies in the last year.

“Who knows how many Canadian jobs could have been created,” Young says.

An acute labor shortage

“The truck driver occupation in Canada is facing an acute labor shortage, as confirmed by the large number of truck driver vacancies and the occupation’s historically low unemployment rate. The combination of these trends has put upward pressure on wages, especially in the longhaul segment,” the report concludes.

Truck driver unemployment dropped from 6.6% to 3.8% between 2016 and 2018, while Canada’s overall unemployment rate dropped from 7% to 5.8%

“It indicates the pool of potentially available truck drivers is becoming depleted,” the report concludes. “Put differently, the already historically low truck driver unemployment rate is approaching a floor known as the structural level of unemployment. At this level of unemployment there will still be a certain number of truck drivers that are not employable due to factors including skills and geographic mismatches.”

The trucking and logistics sector employs 3.6% of Canada’s workforce, translating to more than 650,000 workers. Truck drivers account for 300,000 employees, while 90,000 people are in shipping and receiving, 70,000 are courier service drivers, 38,000 are material handlers at warehouses and distribution staff. The remainder are managers, supervisors, administrative staff, and accounting personnel.

While the number of truck drivers has increased by more than 80,000 people in the past two decades, the rate of increase has slowed to an average of 4,100 drivers per year over the past decade, compared to 5,500 per year over the previous decade.

Small businesses hit harder

Small businesses are said to be “disproportionately” affected, with job vacancies costing firms with revenues below $1 million an average of 24.5% of sales, compared to the 7.4% for businesses with sales exceeding $50 million.

David Carruth, president and CEO of One for Freight, agrees.

“Our managers, our supervisors, have had to step in and do front-line roles,” he says, referring to challenges over the past two years that have come at the expense of operations-related tasks. “All of this impacts the bottom line and our ability to service our clients.”

Driver agencies haven’t been able to fill the gaps, either.

“Certain agency drivers only want to do local, only want to do this,” Carruth says, referring to his experience.

Factors behind the shortage

Identified factors behind the current labor shortage include an aging workforce, misconceptions about the industry among women and youth, and a high turnover rate.

“While 63% of prospective new hires have a high a school degree or less, many are not entering the trucking industry due to the perception that training costs and time are prohibitive. And, we are losing these young people to other occupations [e.g. construction], as they perceive the ability to start in other industries immediately,” the report concludes.

“So many times we’re referred to as just a truck driver. What’s just a truck driver?” adds Myrna Chartrand, the Manitoba Trucking Association’s 2018 Driver of the Year. “There’s just so much more to it that I don’t think people realize. It’s not just driving there’s so much else you can experience.”

The HR challenges are even extending to recruiters themselves.

“Surveys indicate that HR professionals are being bogged down with increased recruitment pressures and frustrations, topped off with more complex compliance issues. These challenges are now impacting the ability to keep good recruiters on staff,” Trucking HR Canada concluded. “Plus, there is an increased focus on innovative retention approaches. These dedicated efforts mean less time to focus on expansion and current operations.”

While 12% of millennial-aged workers would consider a career in longhaul trucking, just 50% of surveyed employers have formal plans to recruit from the demographic group, Trucking HR Canada says. Misconceptions about training costs, the time to obtain credentials, and the industry’s image were all seen as barriers here.

According to Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census, 32% of truck drivers were 55 or older, compared to 21% of the labor pool as a whole.

“The good news is that there is a vast pool of millennials that would consider longhaul trucking if approached the right way,” Trucking HR Canada says.

Two in five surveyed employers also said they have adopted strategies to retain aging drivers, offering flexible work arrangements, reduced physical work, and improved equipment.

Changing compensation

In terms of compensation, close to ¾ of shorthaul drivers are paid by the hour, at an average of $23.77 per hour. Roughly two-thirds of longhaul drivers are paid by the mile, averaging 0.53 per mile. Other forms of compensation range from flat rates to percentage of revenues, and annual salaries.

But that’s changing.

Angela Splinter, Trucking HR Canada
John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Canadian Shipper, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • There are more trucks than freight at the current time. Many truck drivers are leaving truck driving because of low wages, lack of parking, poor treatment by shippers and receivers. Too many truck drivers end up in homeless shelters when they get sick or injured. I have been in and out of homeless shelters for 5 years after getting injured on the job and my house damaged by a windstorm 80 months ago. Since Jan 24 I have been protesting at queens park Toronto, treatment of me and other people by insurance companies . The government needs to provide a a subsidy of at least 30 percent up to $25,000 per company per year per truck driver training school. The Ontario government needs to provide insurance for truck drivers for the first year after getting their truck license for all trucking companies of 10 or less company trucks. The government needs to provide a 50 percent subsidy for wheelchair vans and small buses of 25 passengers or less for nonprofit groups and taxis up to $25,000 per business per year. The best way to this is to set up a government insurance company. The government needs to take a look at trucking and busing and wages paid after the truck drivers have 5000 hours experience at 1.6 times minimum wage and O T R drivers 1.9 times minimum wage plus overtime after 10 hours per day and overtime after 50 hours per week. This is all drivers of transport of 30,000 kg.s or 30 passengers or more. Uber and other drivers. Of 10 passengers or less passengers make 1.1 times the minimum wage plus fuel and car allowance. The government needs fix the insurance problem or or take over all car and truck insurance for all fleets of 5 or less vehicles. 5195239586

    • Very well wrote Stephen . Today if you have only one or two trucks they not even look at your application to get insurance .

  • biggest problem right now is we can’t find drivers and the insurance companys want 3 years exp so we owner operator are sick and tiered rates are also going down day by day .

    • Hi-3 years experience is not enough for training a Class 1 Professional driver,check the “Commercial ” accident statistics the last 30 years ?

  • Hi, I am in Canada from last 10 years and always hearing this news that there is shortage of truck drivers . But never heard news that truck drivers are doing a very tough job and getting paid less wages . So this is a rumour so that more people should get AZ license and employers should get cheap labour ( truck driver ) please stop spreading this . If you guys really understand what truck driving job is ? Please write a column about pay hike and befits of truck drivers . And there will be more drivers in the market than industry really needs . Thanks

  • All of these big companies. Just keep on lobbying about a driver shortage. There isn’t any driver shortage out here. There are actually too many truck’s on the road. And too many people behind the wheel who don’t know how to drive a truck. The only thing this is about when they cry driver shortage is to flood the market & keep wage’s down. Very simple math ! And to understand this you need to be in the field.,not pushing a pencil sitting at your desk. Cheap labour is the game & getting these unqualified driver’s to run their truck’s & be partially subsidized with tax payer’s money & they rake in the profit’s. Bottom- line is economic’s use & abuse the system.

  • 0. 53 CPM ???? are dreaming or are you hi ? That`s the reason can`t fill seats for all the risks and time away from home and filthy washrooms and sowers and waiting time not payed etc etc they pay peanuts . You pay peanuts you will hire monkeys to drive for you and they complain they have no good drivers . Or if you are an O/O today you will work for equipment payments , fuel and insurance because the big companies they try to put monopoly the industry and push away the small fleets