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Economic Woes, Job Losses Drive More People To Trucking

CASTLEGAR, B. C. - As a former boom boat operator who worked for the deteriorating forestry industry, Paul Laurence is looking forward to changing careers. He's chosen the trucking industry, which is ...

CASTLEGAR, B. C. – As a former boom boat operator who worked for the deteriorating forestry industry, Paul Laurence is looking forward to changing careers. He’s chosen the trucking industry, which is an occupation that he is hoping will offer a more comfortable work environment and steady employment.

When Laurence was scoping out top professional driving schools in B. C., he decided on Mountain Transport Institute (MTI), located in Castlegar.

Since the MTI program requires a 12-week commitment, Laurence had to seek out extended lodging in the area, which also meant infrequent visits home to his family on the west coast. Yet, Laurence is not complaining, and seems to be enjoying the experience.

“I’m staying at a little cabin on the Columbia River that I rented from a lady and her husband,” he says. “It’s not my house at home or anything, but as a bachelor it works.”

This isn’t the first time Laurence has had to switch careers. Before he started working for the forestry industry, he was a commercial fisherman – a once lucrative profession that has suffered from dwindling stocks. Therefore, working independently as a trucker is expected to be an easy fit. Laurence also expects that he’ll appreciate the warm environment of a cab, compared to the all-weather exposure of a bare-bones vessel like a four-metre boom boat. However, the driver-in-training admits that the full reality of his new profession remains a question. “Honestly, I don’t really know, until I actually get out there and do it.”

Andy Roberts, president of MTI says it’s not unusual to meet students who have switched to trucking from industries like forestry.

“Professional driving is a sector that is relatively quick to get into, with an ability to earn good money right out of school,” says Roberts. “The challenge that we see, is that quite often individuals are choosing trucking for the money only, and not because they really want to drive.”

The head of the Professional Driver Certificate Program for Red Deer College in Alberta, has noticed an unusual upswing in enrollment recently, much of which is resulting from students who are switching careers due to economic pressures facing retail and sales positions or as a result of corporate downsizing. “We have had a tremendous interest in the program as well as phone calls from people that are looking for alternatives,” says Ric Bolton, who indicates that the school is also getting a great deal of interest from applicants who live outside of Alberta – from as far away as Halifax, Inuvik, and Ontario.

Business is so good for the Alberta professional driving school that it has had to turn about 15 students away last month, and create a waiting list for about 40 people who want to enroll in the next 85-hour course. And despite the economy, Bolton said there are still jobs in the trucking industry.

“Fifty per cent of the students right now have been offered jobs from carriers,” he says.

Linda Gauthier, executive director of the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council has heard of a range of employment situations in talks with various companies that have operations across the country: some are hiring, some are not hiring, and others are laying employees off.

“So, we can’t blanket across the country, to say nobody is hiring. That’s not true. Some people are hiring and I think it’s a question of where there’s movement, and where the economy is starting to pick up,” she said.

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