ENDANGERED SPECIES: The much-touted driver shortage is making rates, salaries and jobs in the industry much more attractive to newcomers.
TORONTO, Ont. – Canada’s largest profession desperately needs more drivers. And with opportunities abounding, this is a great time to choose trucking as a career.
For one thing, wages appear to be dramatically on the upswing. According to a study by Cerno Research of Mississauga, Ont., overall compensation packages for long-haul company drivers in the 50th percentile bracket (mid-range earnings), increased by eight per cent between Dec. 31, 2003 and Dec. 31, 2004.
“We expected to see an increase but not that much in the middle range,” says Cerno projects director Stephen Harrington.
“The current driver shortage has led to pressure on drivers’ wages,” he adds. “Companies can no longer afford to fall behind. If they’re looking for 10 drivers and don’t get the resumes they want, they will come out with a higher offer.”
And apparently, remuneration is up across the industry as a whole. “Carriers have found a little more money recently and they’ve found a way to invest some of that money in their drivers,” says Harrington.
The driver shortage has at least made it easier for young people to break into the business. Class 1 or AZ drivers no longer have to be 25 years old. Some carriers will hire drivers at 21. And some trucking companies that have traditionally wanted one or two years experience, will now settle for as little as three months. It’s quite a change for the better, for drivers at least, as the catch-22 for a new driver has always been gaining the experience, i.e., you need experience to get the job, but you can’t get a job to get the experience.
Such is not the case today. Some top Canadian trucking companies are going directly to driving schools and making presentations. Ted Wise, senior instructor at Humber Transport Training Centre in Toronto, Ont., says carriers like Kriska, Challenger Motor Freight and Schneider National (among others) will hire rookie drivers fresh out of school.
“These are fantastic companies who take entry-level drivers and show them how they want the job done,” says Wise. Typically, a new recruit is put through the company’s orientation program and then placed with a driver trainer for one, two or three months until he or she is deemed ready to fly solo.
Curriculums at driving schools are also changing to accommodate new groups getting behind the wheel. Humber is now going with two trainees per cab instead of three giving each student more time driving.
“Fifteen years ago we had boys off the farm who could handle all kinds of equipment,” says Wise. “Today we have people from all over the world who have never seen equipment this big, whose experience is nil.”
I’ve often thought about writing a little booklet called “So you want to drive truck!” It would be a primer for someone who knows nothing about trucking and would include a checklist.
“Do you love driving?” would be the first question. If you don’t like driving and can’t read a map you might want to try something else. As a commercial driver, you have to be a good people person and communicator, but you’ve also got to be able to work alone with little supervision.
It would also help to be service-oriented. You have to enjoy helping people and have a penchant for punctuality. Professional truck drivers also tend to be good problem solvers with strong life skills. “They’re the kind of people you want to have around in an emergency,” an OPP officer once told me.
Of course, there’s always the question of what the driver stands to gain.
For starters, it’s a great way to see North America. Carrying a fold-up bicycle, a hibachi and a big steak in the cooler, or a set of golf clubs can make the difference between a drudge job and one that’s fun.
And if you’re sick of laying over in desolate industrial parks, remember, your tractor cab can go anywhere that RV vehicles go (but stay out of Walmart parking lots).
Jean Kinnear lives in Kitchener, Ont. and has been running line haul from Toronto to Montreal for 24 years. Twice a week her company requires her to layover in Montreal for 15 hours at a time. Although she was provided with a nice hotel room she felt isolated and didn’t want to sleep all day.
Four years ago she hit upon a solution and brought her old Dodge down to Montreal. Now she pays $1,000 insurance to keep an extra vehicle but she thinks it’s worth it.
“I go to the gym, eat in interesting places and visit friends when they’re around,” says Kinnear.
She also offers some solid advice for fledgling truckers: “Get your sleep, find time to exercise and have fun – you deserve a life.”