We seem to have general agreement that there is a shortage of qualified truck drivers in Canada, and now the attention of the industry and the government needs to be turned towards remedies.
There are a number of examples of important initiatives that have already been taken by the industry and a couple of important things yet for the government to do.
In the spring of 2012 the Canadian Trucking Alliance convened a Blue Ribbon Task Force to broadly examine the driver shortage.
They should be applauded for their much publicized report that was, in many ways, self critical of the industry’s own practices. That was an interesting and frank approach.
Around the same time the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada and Motortruck Fleet Executive magazine published the comprehensive Benchmark Study of Canadian Private Fleet practices (still available by contacting the PMTC office).
Sections of that report delve in to the best practices of fleets in areas such as hiring, retention, rates of pay and benefits, as well as training and incentive programs.
The report provides readers with insight into how other fleets function, along with some of the industry’s best practices in driver hiring and retention. There’s a good deal of information that fleets can use to assess their own operations.
In its heyday the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) developed a comprehensive driver training program that received both darts (too long and too expensive) and laurels (comprehensive and a good foothold on the career path).
CTHRC went further by auditing schools to ensure that the curriculum was being used properly.
The industry continues to wear a poor image the way a beaver wears a pelt – hard to shake off. But, if we could change that image it would lead to more interest in the industry from young people and that would surely bolster the dwindling cadre of professional drivers. Better entry-level training is part of upgrading the profession and would yield long-term benefits in the supply of new entrants.
Despite these efforts on the part of industry, success stories in solving the shortage of qualified drivers are few in number. In fact, the recent economic downturn may have had more to do with alleviating the problem than anything else.
A shortage of freight and consolidation of carriers equals less demand for drivers.
But the problem has not gone away, and it will be exacerbated as the economy rebounds and demand for transportation services increases.
With that in mind, the industry needs to continue its efforts to improve working conditions and make truck driving a job in which an individual can earn a good living and have some pride.
But there are other issues that need attention that affect the shortfall. For example, the classification for a truck driver in the National Occupation Classification (NOC) is overdue for a review and here’s why that matters.
Absent an influx of Canadian youth looking for jobs as truck drivers, it is natural for carriers to look outside of Canada for qualified people that might want to immigrate.
Those people are there and are willing to come to Canada, but the NOC presents some Olympian-level hurdles.
The NOC has assigned truck driving as a ‘Skill Level C’ occupation, which means that truck drivers don’t rank high on the list of desirable immigrants.
That makes it difficult for an overseas driver willing to immigrate to bring his or her skill set to the Canadian trucking industry.
Some of these drivers have a good deal of experience in Europe, for example, and could be a fit for the Canadian industry.
NOC levels run from a high of A to a low of D, so you can readily figure out what the government thinks of the skills required of today’s truck driver.
To quote the Web site of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Level C occupations “generally require completion of secondary school and some job-specific training or completion of courses directly related to the work.”
In our view that is one big over-simplification.
In part because of the NOC level, employers wishing to utilize immigration as a source of truck drivers are limited to various temporary worker programs.
While this is of some help in the short term, employers are less likely to invest in training and other traditional employee-related programs for these drivers, whom they will only have for a relatively short period of time.
This, unfortunately, contributes further to the high levels of driver turnover in the industry, and does nothing to address the long-term issue of the industry’s need for skilled drivers.
PMTC and other industry groups would like to see the National Occupation Classification upgraded to better recognize the skills required to drive trucks in Canada today.
This would be an important step toward making immigration a realistic source of drivers that the industry requires.
Clearly, an experienced individual who makes the choice to immigrate to Canada to drive a truck is a better long-term prospect as an employee than someone on a temporary work permit. These points were raised by PMTC in a recent meeting with Canada’s Minister of State (Transport), Steven Fletcher, and I believe we received a fair hearing.
Another impediment to considering immigration as a source of drivers for the Canadian trucking industry is the absence of Foreign Credential Recognition.
The skills and experience that foreign drivers can bring to Canada from parts of the world where they have been successful, are not recognized as part of the Canadian licensing process.
As a result, these potential drivers must often undertake further expensive training in Canada prior to applying for a licensing test.
The CTHRC has submitted a proposal to the Foreign Credential Referral Office to consider reciprocity agreements with countries whose training is similar and to the same level as Canada’s. The goal is to streamline the integration of international drivers immigrating to Canada.
So, as much as there is a lot happening to address the shortage of qualified drivers, there is much yet to do.
And two of the most important ways that government could help is to review and upgrade the National Occupation Classification for truck drivers and consider foreign competency recognition.