Help wanted: Construction and oil and gas fleets experiment with new programs to attract drivers

by Carolyn Gruske

As with any other fleet operating in Canada, fleet managers in the construction and oil and gas industries can’t find enough drivers to fill the seats or mechanics to staff the benches. That has led to businesses creating programs to attract new drivers and looking outside Canadian borders for workers.

Starting closer to home, Westcan’s CEO Grant Mitchell said the type of young worker the company used to recruit has vanished.
“In a fleet our size, we’re used to the guys who grew up on a farm or who grew up around trucks or who grew up in a shop and just had that great practical experience, whereas a younger person today may not have gained that experience yet.”

He added the industry is doing a lot to try to recruit younger, inexperienced workers by getting involved in communities and schools, going to tradeshows and putting out traditional advertisements, but “that’s still one of the shortfalls in the industry. I think for the most part we still do all the same things to attract people and we may need to find a different way.”

Recruiting women has also proven a problem for the industry, and Ed Malysa, president and CEO of Calgary-based Trimac Transportation, said this is another area that needs to be re-examined. If there are changes made that will make the industry appealing to women, maybe they can make the industry more appealing overall. He said the industry needs to look at shortening up distances travelled so drivers can get home more frequently, getting extended hours and loading and unloading facilities, and better training drivers in the product handling aspects of the job, which takes up about 50% of a driver’s time.

Both Trimac and Westcan use temporary foreign workers, and both company representatives said a lot of time and effort is put into training and support. At Westcan that includes teaching them about Canada’s harsh climatic and environmental conditions by using one of two driving simulators the company owns. It also means creating a foreign worker support program that helps them settle into their new communities and familiarizes them with local services, schools, recreational facilities and other resources in their new home towns.

While both companies would prefer to hire local talent, or even people from other parts of country, Malysa said transportation companies have to compete with their own customers for workers.

“The large oil companies have their own planes. They fly drivers in and out of Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon and Newfoundland. They have a significant advantage over other companies trying to compete for the same workforce in Western Canada.

“We have also seen wage pressures in Newfoundland recently, where companies, including some of our competitors, have raised their rates to attract workers back who are flying in and out of Fort McMurray. We are seeing a little bit of wage creep happening across the country.”

Even the truck manufactures, such Mack Trucks are seeing the effects of an older, aging workforce, said Greensboro, North Carolina-based vocational product manager Stu Russoli.

“Drivers are getting older in general in the trucking industry. I think the salesmen are getting older too. I was a little bit concerned about that, but when we went up to Toronto I saw a lot of new guys coming in. Now it’s a big challenge for the older salesmen to mentor the younger ones. We are actually doing some training this summer to bring everybody up to speed on that.”
Technology is often cited by all players in the industry as a way of making it easier for those who aren’t veterans become drivers. In particular automatic and automated transmissions are presented as solutions that should make the job easier.

“Let’s be honest, the computer controls are pretty sophisticated. They can choose gears just as well as any person, if not better. What it allows these companies to do is put drivers in there that may not have 10 or 15 years of experience. Sure there are those drivers who want manual transmissions, and we offer them, but from our perspective, if you can get an 18-speed automated transmission that will work in that environment, you don’t have to have that experienced driver driving the vehicle,” said J. P. Davis, vocational segment manager for Freightliner, adding reducing the need to manually shift helps reduce driver fatigue and stress.

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