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Core values behind new CTA effort to deal with the driver shortage

The trucking industry in Canada is facing a long-term, chronic shortage of qualified drivers. In some regions of the country (ie., western Canada) and some sectors of the industry (ie., long-haul, irregular route truckload) this is already in...

The trucking industry in Canada is facing a long-term, chronic shortage of qualified drivers. In some regions of the country (ie., western Canada) and some sectors of the industry (ie., long-haul, irregular route truckload) this is already in evidence.

A number of systemic issues underpin the shortage: the aging demographic of the driver population, public perceptions of the industry and the truck driving job, the fact that truck driving is not considered a skilled occupation outside the industry, the traditional ‘piecework’ pay system that it can be argued shifts inefficiencies created by others onto the backs of drivers, an unpopular lifestyle, increasing regulatory barriers and constraints, etc.

Most Canadian carriers say the driver shortage is their number one challenge and Canadian economic activity could stall if the industry is unable to keep the supply chains flowing.

However, industry consensus on how to address the shortage has been elusive, reflecting the fragmented nature of the business and the ultra-competitive market. Enter CTA which last year formed a Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage to try and provide the leadership needed to develop a coherent direction and plan for moving forward.

One of the first issues the task force had to grapple with is the argument “the driver shortage is your friend” by creating tightness in capacity leading to upward pressure on freight rates. The underlying economic argument is undeniable. But, the risk is the combination of a shrinking labour pool and economic growth may eventually mean the industry will not be able to meet the standards of service that have been the basis for its market dominance. Without truck drivers there is no

There will be no quick fixes, no silver bullets that will easily solve the industry’s human resources challenges. In the short- to medium-term, the situation is unlikely to change. A long, multi-year effort is required. The starting point for the Blue Ribbon Task Force is to establish from the outset, the fundamental core values to guide the industry’s efforts.

First and foremost and while perhaps it goes without saying, it warrants repeating that:

• Truck drivers are our most important asset, the face of the industry – to our customers and to the public. They are deserving of respect and their welfare is at the core of the industry’s success. People of all ages, genders, religions, and races are welcome to work in the industry so long as they meet our standards of safe driving, performance and professional conduct.
Compensation is an unavoidable part of the long-term solution to the driver shortage. While it is recognized the industry are at the mercy of the market:  

• Truck drivers should have an improved ability to predict what their weekly pay is going to be; their compensation packages need to be competitive with or better than alternative employment options and more transparent. Truck drivers should be paid for all the work that they do and earn enough to cover all reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred while on the road for extended periods.

Quality of life issues are also an extremely important consideration:

Truck drivers should be able to plan their lives like most other employees and predict or anticipate their time away from work. Their time at work should not be wasted – at shipper/consignee premises, or waiting for their trucks in the shop, or for a response to a question of their carrier. They should be able to rely on their carrier not to interfere with their personal time by (for example) calling them back to work early. Driver wellness should be a top priority for employers and given the rise in cargo crime driver security while on the road should also be a priority.

The qualifications of truck drivers will increase in importance in the future and it is in this area that the CTA Blue Ribbon Task Force is perhaps most bold and innovative setting the following core values:

• A minimum standard of entry level, apprenticeship or apprenticeship-like truck driver training should be mandatory. Truck driving should be considered a skilled trade and be recognized as such by the various levels and branches of government, standards councils, etc., who certify such things. There should be a program of mandatory ongoing training and/or recertification (ie., TDG Act, pre-trip inspection, load securement, hours-of-service, etc.) throughout a driver’s career.

While associations, governments and others have roles to play, the Task Force concluded it is the carriers – the entities that hire, fire, determine what and how to pay their drivers, who price their service and deal with their customers – who are ultimately responsible for their businesses and therefore for having enough people to do the work. Trucking is a tough business, in a difficult market, with many challenges. But, it is also an industry of problem-solvers and innovators. Those abilities will be tested in resolving the driver shortage.

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