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Driver shortage deja vu

KING CITY, Ont. - The shortage of qualified drivers that was so prominent in 2007 is coming back with a vengeance, Linda Gauthier, executive director with the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CHTRC) warned at the Private Motor Truck...

KING CITY, Ont. – The shortage of qualified drivers that was so prominent in 2007 is coming back with a vengeance, Linda Gauthier, executive director with the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CHTRC) warned at the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada’s annual convention.

In one of her final presentations as head of CTHRC – her successor Angela Splinter was also in attendance –  Gauthier noted there were 174,300 Class 1/A licence holders in Canada in 2008, a number that plummeted to 151,000 in 2009. By 2016, it’s expected the industry will require 172,000 Class 1/A drivers, yet qualified drivers continue to leave the industry.

Factors including industry growth, occupational changes and widespread retirement have combined to create a maelstrom that has left the trucking industry already scrambling for qualified drivers with no solution in sight.

“We’re going to find ourselves back in the same situation we were in in 2007,” Gauthier said, noting driver turnover was at 22.1% that year. “Every other sector is looking for people, so trying to attract people to transportation and trucking will be even more difficult than it was in 2007.”

While the number of Class 1/A licence holders is on the decline, it’s the lack of ‘qualified’ drivers that should be of greater concern, Gauthier noted.

“The dilemma is the qualified driver shortage; the people with the skills to do the job and the people who your insurance provider will cover,” she pointed out.

The CTHRC has developed over the past few years a series of guides that were designed to help the human resources professional manage the impending crisis. Your Guide to Human Resources Volumes 1 and 2 (a third is in the works) provide valuable tips and information as well as practical tools that will help anyone involved in the hiring and retention of drivers to do their jobs more effectively. They’re especially useful for small fleets that don’t have the luxury of a well-staffed HR department, Gauthier said.

“A lot of the information in these guides would be very valuable to those individuals in your company that have an impact on recruitment and retention,” she said.

To build and maintain a stable workforce, fleet managers and recruiters must first comprehend the cost of driver turnover, Gauthier said.

“The key is understanding turnover,” she said. “A lot of people disregard turnover and haven’t taken the time to calculate what it costs them.”

Gauthier described driver turnover as the foundation of a house; until turnover is addressed, the walls (recruitment) and roof (retention) cannot be erected. Offering another analogy, Gauthier said for many fleets, recruiting drivers when you have a turnover problem is like pouring water into a cup with many holes.

“You have two choices: you can pour more water in it in hopes it won’t leak as quickly, or you can fix the leaks,” she said.
Start by hiring the best-qualified drivers, Gauthier suggested, which is akin to pouring maple syrup into the cup rather than water; it will still leak but not nearly as quickly. That provides the opportunity to begin fixing the holes.

“Turnover has become an assumed cost of doing business,” Gauthier said. “You will budget for repairing your vehicles but you don’t budget with regards to lowering your turnover.”

In volume one of the CTHRC’s Guide to Human Resources, the organization tells the story of the fictional ACME Trucking. In the case study, ACME lost 24 of its 89 drivers in a three-month period, which put it on pace for an annualized turnover rate of 108% – not unheard of in this industry. Considering an average cost of $7,500 to replace a driver, ACME was on pace to spend $720,000 over the course of the year just to replace its drivers. The case study is a sobering wake-up call for many fleet managers, Gauthier said.

“When we piloted this material, a lot of trucking companies said ‘You must’ve been in our backyard – this is exactly what is happening’,” she recounted.

To reduce driver turnover, Gauthier suggested fleets first define their corporate culture, so it can be clearly communicated to prospective new hires before they join the organization.

“Present that culture to prospective employees and you may have a better chance of getting it right the first time,” she suggested.

Gauthier also suggested fleets could do a much better job of forecasting their needs and building an employee pipeline so they’re not left scrambling to fill seats.

“Forecast what your needs are going to be and do projections in terms of your history of retirements, growth, etc. and then you can start forecasting and have an idea in advance of what you are going to be looking for,” Gauthier suggested. “Planning to seat your trucks is very important.”

Fleets can build a pipeline of applicants by hanging on to resumes and staying in contact with applicants even if there are no immediate positions available, she suggested. Like an NHL franchise, Gauthier said trucking firms should have a farm system of sorts, with a steady flow of prospective new hires being scouted from the time they’ve graduated from a reputable training school.

“You have to start looking outside the box,” she said. “Attracting a Generation X-er as opposed to attracting a Baby Boomer is not done in the same way.”

Gauthier also noted the industry will have to learn how to appeal to immigrant workers, a topic that’s explored in volume two of the guide. Canada’s population growth is a sluggish 0.2%, she noted, and two-thirds of that is due to international migration.

“Any new growth of the population is going to come from immigration and we’re going to have to pay attention to it,” she warned, adding immigration could account for all net labour force growth by as early as this year.

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