New report quantifies Canada’s driver shortage

by Adam Ledlow

BRAMPTON, Ont. – The shortage of qualified truck drivers in Canada may reach the tens of thousands by the start of the next decade, according to a recently released report from the Conference Board of Canada, leaving the industry scrambling to find ways to fill those future empty seats.

The report, funded by the Canadian Trucking Alliance and titled ‘Understanding the Truck Driver Supply and Demand Gap and Implications for the Canadian Economy,’ estimates that the gap between the supply of drivers and the demand for them could soar as high as 33,000 by 2020.

“The food we eat, the goods that we enjoy and even the homes we live in are in large part delivered by trucks. The inability to meet a huge demand for drivers could be costly for the trucking industry, consumer goods and the Canadian economy,” said Vijay Gill, principal research associate at the CBC.

While truck drivers make up nearly 1.5% of the Canadian labour force – approximately 300,000 truck drivers overall – participation of young people, ages 15 to 24, has dropped off significantly in the past decade. As a result, the average truck driver’s age has increased from 40 years in 1996 to 44 years in 2006, an average that surpasses that of many comparable occupations.

In the face of increasing demographic pressures, a number of factors could help bridge the supply and demand gap for truck drivers, the Conference Board says, including: a significant improvement in industry working conditions and wages; mandatory entry-level driver training and upgraded licence standards to achieve a skilled occupation designation; and a reorganization of trucking activity and supply chains in order to reduce pressures on long-haul drivers and make better use of their time.

College looking to attract new trucker talent
On the training side, triOS College was doing its part to attract potential new drivers, hosting a pair of Trucking Career Expos in February. The events, held at the school’s Brampton and Oshawa campuses Feb. 12 and 13 and delivered in partnership with the Ontario Truck Training Academy, served as a springboard for the college’s new Professional Transport Operator program.

“We hosted a trucking expo to attract new people to the trucking industry, especially to our trucking carrier partners,” said Frank Gerencser, chairman and CEO of triOS College. “We also wanted to formally launch our new Professional Transport Operator program – the first of its kind in Canada. PTO includes all eight weeks of the standard A/Z tractor-trailer program as well as the first half of triOS College’s supply chain and logistics program and a four-month internship working in a trucking company.” 

The event also featured a panel of fleet representatives from across the province – including Don Anderson Haulage, Kriska Transportation, SGT and TST Truckload Express – which treated the nearly 70 attendees to a candid discussion covering the ins and outs of a career in trucking.

After the event, the carrier reps sat down with Truck News to discuss some of the hiring trends they’re seeing in the industry. One issue identified by the group was a need for many training schools to do more to adequately prepare students for careers in trucking.

Caroline Blais, recruiting manager for Kriska Transport, says Kriska only partners with schools that meet specific standards to ensure the carrier receives the highest calibre of drivers possible coming into the carrier’s own training program.

“As much as there are a lot of schools that don’t meet our standard, there are some very good schools that do, and we try to recognize them and reward that process by giving their applicants priority and consideration when hiring,” Blais said. “That school partners program is something that we evaluate constantly and we really measure the success of that school’s training based on how well their students perform on our road test.”

David Brown, recruiting manager with TST Truckload Express out of Mississauga, Ont., says the number of revolving door-style training schools in the province is staggering, with about two out of three schools operating unregistered.

“You’ve got schools that you can show up on a Saturday morning at 10, by Sunday afternoon you’ve got you’re A/Z and by Tuesday they’re asking you to come back as an instructor. They exist,” Brown says.

triOS College’s Gerencser pointed to the rise in “fly-by-night illegal trainers” trying to take advantage of a “systemic shortfall in qualified drivers” as one of the main reasons for the importance of partnerships between carriers and training institutions.

“Quality trucking companies hire quality drivers (new and experienced). The key to success in the trucking industry is to build partnerships with quality truck training schools like triOS College, Ontario Truck Training Academy and other TTSAO (Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario) and PTDI (Professional Truck Driving Institute) members. Schools like ours deliver properly trained new A/Z drivers who can become valuable parts of the carriers driving teams.”

But Brown says that despite the work of organizations like the TTSAO and the PTDI to mandate quality programming in training schools, the products of poor training are apparent on the highways.

“How many times have you driven down the road and the transport in front of you is in the fast lane, or he cuts you off and there’s no signal?” Brown said. “I’m not calling all truck drivers bad truck drivers, but I’m saying there’s a good percentage of them out there that shouldn’t be out there.”

Doug Bell, terminal manager at SGT Transport, says that lack of training is apparent when drivers are performing a road test with the company, where only about 25% of those tested actually pass. “That’s kind of a troubling number when you think of the number of people who pass the MTO test versus the industry road test,” he said, noting that SGT may be “tough” on those it tests, but only because they “have the bar raised fairly high.”

John Kazen, sales engineer at Don Anderson Haulage, says that while his company’s pass ratio is in the 1:6 to 1:10 range, he stresses the driving test is not the be all and end all of a potential employee’s evaluation.

“It depends on the kind of person who is applying; not just the number of people, the quality of people,” he says. “Probably the first 30 seconds to a minute tell you right away if you’re thinking of hiring that person regardless of what the evaluation is or the driving test is.”

Making yourself attractive to trucking companies
So as long as the requisite truck driving skills and know-how are in order, how can potential hires work to set themselves apart and increase their chances of working with their carrier of choice?

Most carrier reps agreed that proper research, including choosing an accredited school for training, is the perfect starting point, but Kazen said a little passion goes a long way.

“Assuming you have all the right credentials, having passion for something speaks volumes because you won’t just be doing it for the money, you’ll be doing it because you care about it, you enjoy doing it, you consider it part of you as a person,” he says. “Sometimes energy and effort and motivation outweigh ‘talent.’ In certain circumstances, you might be great at doing what you do and truly talented in manoeuvring around corners, but if you’re lazy and you don’t care for others, you won’t succeed.”

TST’s Brown also said it’s important for potential hires to know why a company is their first choice and not just fire out resumes en-masse.

“Too many people are out there going, ‘I got my A/Z, I’ll photocopy my abstract or my resume 30 times, give it to 30 carriers, keep my fingers crossed.’ Worst thing you can do,” he says. “Basically what you’ve just done is told 30 carriers two things: you have no idea what you’re looking for, and, secondly, the first time something comes along that’s slightly better, I’m gone.”

Brown says a simple starting point is ask yourself two questions about a what kind of career you’re after: ‘What do I want?’ and ‘What don’t I want?’ If certain words keep springing up, ie., ‘home,’ ‘family,’ and ‘Sunday hockey,’ Brown says, “There’s identifying marks here that are hitting you right in the face…But you have to do the work, you have to do the research, you have to take the time to say what is right for us, what is wrong for us?”

But even if a newbie trucker has found the perfect trucking company to call “home,” there’s still that pesky “experience” that drivers have to get under their belt – typically two years before many carriers will even look at you.

Kriska’s Blais says there are two pieces to the experience puzzle. The first is simply making up for a lack of experience through enthusiasm, commitment and a great attitude. The second “not-so-popular” piece, according to Blais, is accepting that the two years is simply a part of the learning curve in trucking, and part of trucking companies’ due diligence to ensure that they’re only allowing the safest, best-trained drivers on the road.

“The smartest way to get (experience) is picking a good school, getting some good solid base education before they come into the industry, finding a reputable company that has a good solid training program and viewing that as an investment,” she says, “so even if the work that they do when they first get started in this industry isn’t the kind of work they want to be able to do ultimately, it’s about paying dues and earning their stripes and building that good solid experience so that they get to that two-year mark.”

Blais says many trucking companies are working to create training and mentoring programs to support newly-licensed drivers, “so it’s not a case of the industry not extending a hand to new drivers, it’s more a case of new driver not wanting to do what they have to do to get that good solid two years of experience. It’s all part of planning your career and making a commitment to yourself to being a professional and growing yourself as a professional so that in five years, you can be able to go anywhere you want.”

Changing demographics
With the industry’s current driver pool aging rapidly and the Baby Boomer generation set to start retiring in droves, TST’s Brown says it’s up to recruiters to adapt to new hiring realities in the world of trucking.

Brown notes that trucking companies can’t realistically expect to get “lifer” employees anymore – the guys and gals who stick with a company for their entire career.

“If you’re dealing with a ‘Y’ generation kind of driver, you can’t expect him or her to be there 30 years later. If that happens, that’s great, but for the most part, if you hire a Y generation driver and he gives you two years, you’re laughing. If you can squeeze four out of it, that’s the way the generation is right now.”

Have your say

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  • I agree that there is a shortage. A shortage of cheap drivers. I am 36 , have been in the industry since high school. I currently own a five truck flatdeck fleet running Western Canada and the NW USA . I look around and I dont see freight sitting around with no one hauling it. There is an equipment surplus. Instead of trying to fill surplus trucks with cheap drivers, fleets should sell off their excess iron. Capacity would be be reduced, rates would go up, and the driver shortage would be eliminated. I watch freight every day and there is a lot of freight that moves for rates that are below cost. I know younger people that have class 1 licenses and have tried trucking, but left it for more lucrative trades. I have three sons and I’m not encouraging them to join this industry. Until the rest of yhe economy is willing to pay what it should cost to move freight, and until the carriers that move freight far too cheaply are elinimated, this industry will not attract yougn people looking for a decent career.

  • Good comment there Steve. There is no driver shortage just a shortage of good carriers(companies) A fair amount of hype about it? Yes even to the point of were one editor of a magazine blames it on poor immigration laws and need to make it easier immigrate to solve the problem. As they say the good ones don’t advertise that because they have very low turn over or drivers are waiting to get in.

  • I agree, but the shortage is in companies willing to take on new drivers with less than 2 years experience at a fair wage. And that fair wage is NOT MINIMUM WAGE it is a fair living wage with benefits and pension and decent home time. The companies that ship have to come to grips in paying more , WE ALL PAY MORE , fuel has increased , groceries have increased , electricity, Natural gas , prescriptions everything is increasing so should the rates shippers pay, and the rates that trucking companies pay their drivers, who without them, would not have a business. Everyone has to remember…..IF YOU USE IT, HAVE IT OR BOUGHT IT, IT CAME BY TRUCK !!!

  • Perhaps a question from a different direction is the one that should be asked. How have low rates, continual cutting of rates with the resulting low pay, and poor working/living conditions created this alleged driver shortage?

  • Well put Steve I also am a small fleet owner and could not have put it better. I have at least ten calls a day offering loads at 1.35 per mile over 1500 miles. These loads all get hauled so there are enough operators who don’t understand the cost of operation. If we could stop all this propaganda about a driver shortage and realize it
    is acommunication problem maybe we could solve the issue.

  • Huh, I have driven for the Asian trucking companies when I got my license for around 1800 including air brake back in 2008 which was the downfall of industry but got a job in may 2009 for making 2400 in a month for 4 trips to Calgary. 3000 in second month. 3500 in 3rd month, driven 10 speed and 13 speed before started to do California traingular runs making excess of 4800 for 3 years before shifting to locals and start working for better well known carriers. To my intense disappointment they were even worse than Asians. After 5 complete trucking years I now reduced to transit bus driver and I am much happy for ok money but better home time.

  • I started trucking at age 51 after selling my retail store. I find long haul 30% harder than I thought and pay 30% less than I anticipated. I recieved a 25% bump in pay by switching to a better carrier. Until collective bargaining or government intervention carriers cannot just increase pay 40% to solve the shortage. Like the taxi business a third world country will gladly send us thousands of truck drivers for 41 cents a mile. But they dont speak english and have never seen snow. I will do this until I no longer enjoy it and then I will apply at Tim Hortons as thay pay there Managers the same as I am making now!

  • I don’t get it…

    I see Long Haul OTR trucking jobs listed online at salaries over 70000$ a year, sometimes even more in the Prairies, and they are asking for 1 year.

    Are they lying?

    I want to get into trucking now, after my business went bankrupt. No family, no gf, willing to live on the road all the time. I don’t care for holidays, or anything like that, I just want to roll away.

    Is it realistic to expect a 70000$ job?

    • Baaa haa haaa haa haaaaa!! $70K/year? I hope you can haul B-trains, All forms of Hazmat, Fuel tankers and very severe livestock deadlines.

      Not in your first five years TK. Maybe not ever.

    • They are lying. But after a few years, you could be making 50 – 60k if you don’t mind being a no-lifer. If you can get through one year with the kind of company that hires rookies, then you can begin looking for a better-paying job. Do a lot of research because good trucking jobs are hard to find, and they all lie. Talk to drivers. The best jobs, and not just in trucking, are the ones that don’t have to advertise for employees. Their positions are easily filled by word-of-mouth. Those are usually union jobs.

  • funny how there is a shortage and i can’t find a job as a rockie
    lets say 20 cent a mile pissed me off enougth to say f-u to the trucking industry give you an idea of the problem 10000$ for a license that i can’t afford to use should of went to college oh well

  • Everything I wanted to say has been said here drivers! I could not agree more. There is a shortage of new drivers because… wait for it… DRIVING TRUCK IS NOW A SHIT JOB.

    Terrible hours (possibly worse than any career excluding military service), Terrible money (don’t even get me started. Paid by the mile issues, waiting time pay, god forbid border crossing issues…) NO respect. How many times have you heard “dirty fucking trucker” in your life???? And…lol… here we go… immigrants. Why pay an American (or Canadian) driver $0.60 a mile when a landed immigrant from the middle east will drive the truck for half that???? I mean… after all…. It’s not rocket science. It’s just driving a 75 foot long 80,0000 pound missile in between the mini vans that ferry your kids to school… We don’t really need GOOD drivers, we just need CHEAP drivers.

    Take the keys Ahmed. Have fun with that.

  • Go to>
    Great comments by all. No shortage of drivers, but rather a shortage of good experienced drivers.
    We hire new drivers on a case by case scenario. Everyone that has had their license for a long time was given a break by someone to get started in this industry. We are limited on our ability to take on new drivers right out of driving school but we do take about 5-7 per year.
    Everyone is out here to make a decent living the best they can.

  • I wil clear this issue once and for all, so you all understand. There never was nor is a shortage of qualified drivers. The trucking industry has created this problem all on their own. Before deregulation truckers made a decent salary. It was a profession that was respected and the drivers were called The Knights of The Road. Remember?? That’s also when drivers would stop to help fellow motorist in trouble. Remember?? After deregulation everything changed. Carriers started popping up and charging less than should. Cutting rates to get the customers also meant salaries were cut. Drivers had to drive further and longer to make the same money. Thus reducing their quality of life. I started driving in the mid 80’s at the age of 21. By that time trucking was already a sucky job. I saw right away. But I stayed on because it was a dream I had since i could walk. Hoping it would get better . But it never did. Trucking companies would kick each other in the knees and bend over backwards to haul freight that didn’t even cover their expenses just so they could keep the trucks rolling. How can any business make any money selling a product at cost price and expect to cover its own expenses to stay in business. The trucking industry found the solution to this problem, pay the driver less than he deserves. He’ll have to run harder to make money, hell stay out on the road longer. We will keep him busy because there no shortage of shitty paying loads. If he’s not happy he can quit!! Cause there no shortage of driver, just have to turn over a rock and a dozen drivers will pop out from under it. Remember how many times you heard that saying. The trucking industry lost respect for itself and therefore there was no respect for people who chose that industry as a career. We no longer were seen as The Knights of The Road. We were now more like highway cowboys driving way too fast and poping pills so we could drive longer, farther to earn less than befor. Never mind stopping to help someone in need. I’ve worked in he trucking industry for 16 years until i quit in 2000 to get a job with public transit company. I now make a great salary with a pension. And you would not believe how many ex truckers work here. There are no shortage of drivers!! They just got out trucking to work elsewhere. The industry has long held a belief that there would always be drivers to fill their trucks. But because of bad management, they find themselves in a situation that they can’t find new drivers to take over cause none sees trucking as a profession. There are many good trucking companies out there today, more than befor. The mindset has changed, the now see truckers as a integral part part of their companies success. Truckers are their most important asset. They are portraying a Driver comes First attitude. And doing everything to recruit drivers from a shrinking driver pool. Gone are the days of “Turning over a Rock and a Dozen Drivers will Pop out”. The truck in industry has only itself to blame for the mess its in today. As for me i am gonna reitre in 8 years with 25 years of service in public transit with a nice pension.

  • I got my drivers since 2008 and nobody want to hire me because of my experience. I don’t believe that there is a shortage of drivers. That is all BS.

  • There isn’t a shortage of drivers. There’s a shortage of trucking companies people are willing to work for. You know who doesn’t have a shortage of drivers, who, in fact, has waiting lists, and who never has to advertise for employees? Every unionized trucking company, that’s who. People are willing to drive, but not for peanuts.

    Trucking companies, you want to get and keep good drivers? Tamp down your greed a little bit, and give drivers the same benefits unions have gotten for their members. Then, you could even afford to be picky.

  • never mind new drivers..I am a 15 year driver with clean record and still have a hard time landing some good driving jobs…if the companies don’t rake you over the coal there insurance company will…I do a lot of short contract and seasonal jobs and because I am not consecutively insured I get a hard time..these comments on here are so dead on …trucking is all lies,deceat and thieves from trucking companies… I was recently asked to go sit by the mto scale in a unmarked company truck and let them know when lights are off so they can sneak a over weight load by.. I said no by the way….reading the comments on here is unbelievable they took the words right out of my mouth so true.. I am also getting out of trucking just not worth it anymore..