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.”
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.”
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