SURREY, B.C. - With an aging workforce priming for an exit from the trucking industry and few fresh faces entering on the other end, the task of finding qualified, reliable drivers may become an incre...
SURREY, B.C. – With an aging workforce priming for an exit from the trucking industry and few fresh faces entering on the other end, the task of finding qualified, reliable drivers may become an increasingly larger challenge for fleets.
A trucking firm based in B.C. has taken a few proactive steps towards bringing in new recruits, while still providing perks to its current drivers.
“We consider it as our single biggest hurdle to our success in the future and every decision is based on our attractiveness to a truck driver,” said Jim Mickey, general manager and co-owner of Coastal Pacific Xpress (CPX).
Statistics Canada released a report in January based on numbers from 2004, which outlined a bleak personnel outlook for the trucking industry. Eighteen per cent of drivers were aged 55 or older and for the first time those older drivers outnumbered drivers under the age of 30. As well, only five per cent were under 25-years-old in 2004, compared with 15 per cent in the labour force as a whole.
Mickey entered the trucking industry as a 16-year-old and has witnessed the changes over the years which have led to the decline in popularity of the trucking profession.
“The industry has created the world’s worst situation. The demand is rising, so we have nice job security as an industry; but we are falling behind,” stated Mickey. “Twenty-five years ago you had a 20 per cent premium on construction labourers, now it’s the other way around and we don’t pay the drivers enough to keep them. When you’re better off working by the hour putting up drywall it makes it difficult to attract young people into the industry.”
In an effort to ease inexperienced drivers into trucking, CPX has partnered with two driver-training schools in B.C. to establish an extended education process. The company pre-screens students and hand picks graduates to join the carrier once they are completed school.
The new recruits then enter a finishing school established by CPX where the newcomers are partnered with an established driver on the fleet. The trainer remains as a passenger for the first month and a half with the student carrying the driving duties, while both are paid for their time.
“After that it goes into the second phase when the student does all the paperwork, deals with dispatchers and the customers,” explained Mickey. “They split time doing the driving, but the students do all the tricky driving through the mountains and that goes on for another 25,000 or so miles. So they get about 50,000 miles in total by the end and as far as I’m concerned it’s as good as five years of experience.”
The company currently has nine students working in its finishing school and plans to graduate 50 people over a 12-month period.
At the opposite end of the age spectrum, CPX has had some success in recruiting retired couples to its workforce.
“They tend to be a highly motivated team that’s cut from a different cloth and keen to go where we tell them to go,” said Mickey. “They start off financially stable and have a small cost of living back home. Their cost of getting by is usually just the truck.”
The draw for CPX’s older couples is the ability to travel and the company attempts to send these teams to destinations of interest and stops where it may take a little longer to pick up a return load.
“It will likely remain part of our focus, but a small part of our focus,” noted Mickey. “It’s some idea for guys heading into their retired years, we send them to places where its harder to get a return load and the longer they sit there the happier they are.”
For its current drivers, Mickey says that to keep them happy the company just does the basics: increase pay, increase the level of respect for the drivers and connect them to the community.
Two years ago CPX was run as solely an owner/operator outfit, running with 250 trucks. Recently, the company invested into company drivers and by September plan to have 75 company trucks and more than 100 company drivers.
The addition of company trucks was met by a wage increase to its owner/operators. Over the past six months, CPX has increased its pay rates twice, for a total raise of 45 per cent for its owner/operators.
“The only way to make more money is to drive more. People who used to do 10,000 miles a month are then doing 12,000 miles a month,” explained Mickey. “You aren’t able to support a family anymore as a truck driver and you need two incomes.”
Given the pay increase, the company is hoping drivers can choose to work less to support their families and have a more sustainable work/life balance.
“We have the world’s softest rules on our people,” said Mickey. “There’s no forced dispatch and if they don’t want to work we find a way to work around that. We want people to be happy when they come to work.”
The company delivers LTL and truckload service across the continent from Alaska to Florida, with terminals in Surrey, Calgary and Edmonton. To combat a sporadic driving lifestyle, the company tries to increase familiarity with dedicated schedules.
“We schedule our Canadian operations with the same days and same schedule for the drivers,” said Mickey. “We find it works well with our drivers as well as for our customers.”
In an effort to work with its employees, the trucking firm has set up a 24-hour phone service for its employees. The confidential phone line is contracted to an outside source and is an avenue employees can use to work through any personal issues in their lives.
“In the trucking industry people will often have issues, which will cause them to quit,” Mickey explained. “What we try to do is give them an opportunity to fix any problems before they have to quit.”
Whether it’s the support services, driver-friendly scheduling, attractive wages or the extensive training, the low driver turnover rate at CPX is a testament to the company’s work environment, Michey said.
In 2004 the American Trucking Associations estimated the driver turnover rate for large truckload carriers at 130 per cent. For 2002 the Canadian Trucking Human Resource Council puts the turnover rate at 36 per cent for all fleets.
“Ours was 21 per cent, so we don’t have to spend as much money on training and can afford these extra programs and pay raises,” noted Mickey. “But I’m concerned 21 per cent is too high. One hundred per cent would be ridiculous; I don’t know how you could run a business like that.”