CTHRC report: Like it or not, the driver shortage is escalating

Truck News

OTTAWA, Ont. – New studies conducted on behalf of the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) have identified an escalating shortage of qualified commercial truck drivers across the country.

Canadian fleets lose 22.1% of their drivers per year, according to Canada’s Driving Force Phase 2, the follow-up to research conducted in 2002. That compares to an average driver turnover rate of 36% recorded at the time of the initial study. Even after the employers recruit new personnel, however, about 12% of the industry’s job openings remain vacant, according to the report. The CTHRC says that 12% represents an immediate need for 12,000 additional Class 1/A drivers.

Almost half of the fleets admitted during surveys in 2006 that a lack of personnel forced them to idle equipment in the previous six months; 60% cited the driver shortage as one of the top two concerns facing their organizations.

“There is no ‘magic bullet’ to solve every HR challenge, but this is the industry intelligence that fleets can use in their recruiting, training and retention strategies,” says Linda Gauthier, CTHRC executive director.

“A high dollar and resulting slowdown in the manufacturing sector may have led some Eastern Canadian fleets to impose a temporary freeze on new hires, but the long-term need for qualified drivers is still a reality.”

Independent researchers at RA Malatest and Associates surveyed 1,432 employers and agencies, 270 newly-hired drivers, 591 Class 1/A test participants and 954 licensees who were renewing their Class 1/A licences. They also analyzed occupation and industry-related data from Human Resources and Social Development Canada.

Even though Canada has 662,400 Class 1/A licence holders, a significant share of these individuals have retired or never worked as a commercial driver, the related studies conclude.

Almost one-third of inactive licensees left jobs behind the wheel in favour of different careers.

“At a time when the trucking industry’s retirement rates are on the rise, there is also little comfort in the knowledge that 73.3% of inactive licence holders are over the age of 45,” the CTHRC said in a release.

Compounding matters, the industry’s newest drivers don’t tend to consider trucking until after they’ve worked in other careers, and 60% of them are over the age of 30, according to the report.

Each region of the country also faces unique HR challenges, says the CTHRC. Turnover rates in Atlantic Canada are higher than elsewhere in the country, and tend to involve more layoffs or terminations. British Columbia’s fleets face a higher-than-average retirement rate and relatively high “quit” rate. A large number of job vacancies in the Prairies (14.9%) can be linked to a greater likelihood that drivers will quit. Quebec and Ontario fare the best, with respective turnovers of 17.1% and 18.7%, but new hire rates still can’t keep up with the demand, according to the report.

The report also found that in order to retain the drivers they have, employers are offering an array of benefits such as: life, accident or injury insurance (offered by 51.7% of fleets); medical and dental coverage (51.7%); paid time for training (42.7%); guaranteed days off (38.6%); and performance incentive programs (31.1%). Other companies provide flexible work weeks or adjust activities to accommodate older personnel.

The retention of qualified personnel is particularly important, says the CTHRC, given the fact that more than half of today’s employers feel that licence holders lack the necessary training and experience.

Even when they have a licence in hand, 63.5% of newly-hired drivers surveyed felt they needed additional training, whether it involved regulations (cited by 24.3%); backing, coupling and uncoupling (18.9%); shifting and transmission (12.2%); defensive driving (8.1%); or the essential skills of reading, writing and math (8.1%). The report says that the main difference between a passing and failing grade in a Class 1/A test appears to be the number of hours of training, highlighting the need for students to attend high-quality training programs.

Almost one in every four fleets surveyed (24.5%) offer more training than they did two years ago, and about 35% of employers surveyed have increased the amount of training offered to new hires. In contrast, just over 17% of fleets surveyed do not offer any training at all.

Using the findings in the six technical reports that detail the Canada’s Driving Force Phase 2 results, the CTHRC has come to a number of key conclusions. These include:

* The existing shortage of Class 1/A drivers is expected to worsen over the next five years. Almost 60% of employers surveyed cited the shortage as one of their top two concerns, up from the 50% measured in 2002;

* Evidence for the driver shortage can be found by observing the number of idling trucks. Almost half of those surveyed in the Unseated Trucks Survey had to idle trucks in the previous six months because of a shortage of personnel; 41.5% noted that the shortage affects their ability to move freight;

* Trucking tends to be the “next” career choice. The industry’s newest recruits are likely to come from other industries;

* The shortage is a training issue. Fifty-one per cent of employers surveyed feel the real shortage relates to a lack of “qualified” drivers, because licence holders often lack the required training and experience. Less than one-third of fleets surveyed (30%) offer driver training of their own;

Though the CTHRC admits there is no “magic bullet” to solve this challenge, the organization says the research of Canada’s Driving Force Phase 2 provides the insight needed to address these issues.

For a look at the full report, visit www.cthrc.com/en/canadasdrivingforcephase2.php.

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