Back in July, the Governor of the Bank of Canada suggested that the worst was over for the recession and that Canada was about to embark on a “robust recovery.”
His forecast of a 3% growth in the economy for next year and a further 3.5% in 2011 was based on what the bank saw as the results of low interest rates and massive government spending. Let’s hope there is a degree of accuracy in that forecast.
If it is an accurate forecast, we should see a (slow) return to higher levels of manufacturing and shipping, which of course means work for drivers and revenue for carriers. What it should also herald is a renewed demand for qualified truck drivers -drivers that have been driven out of the industry or left it of their own accord as the recession bit deeply into the job market.
Which brings me back to an issue that was hot just before the recession hit -that being the shortage of qualified truck drivers. In those fairly recent days, the entire industry was concerned with how we would increase the supply of those drivers.
Among the suggested remedies for the shortage was better training, higher licensing standards, improvements in the workplace, and easing the restrictions that made it difficult to bring offshore drivers to Canada.
While some of the suggestions engendered interest and action, it seemed as though most got backburnered as the demand for drivers plummeted. It says here that rather than deferring action, we could all have looked toward the future when the demand for qualified drivers would once again be driven by a return to a more robust economy.
Admittedly, some work has been going on in the interim. For example, Ontario is trying to establish driver training standards, but hasn’t decided how those standards would or could be enforced. Voluntary standards simply don’t work in a training industry replete with schools that deliver sub-standard training.
But work has been progressing on another front that could have longer term positive implications on the status of the truck driving profession in Canada, and hence our ability to attract new entrants or use immigration as a means to fill a need. That is the review of the National Occupational Classification (NOC) for truck drivers.
A report by Dr. Robert D. Hiscott on ground transportation occupations relating to the NOC 7411 truck driver put forward recommendations that, if implemented, would have a positive impact on the industry. Among Dr. Hiscott’s recommendations was that the job of truck driver should be considered a skilled occupation, and that there should be greater access to bringing into Canada foreign-trained workers under normal immigration procedures.
Both of these suggestions would substantially improve the ability of the industry to attract qualified drivers -both domestically and from offshore if required.
Designating the profession as skilled could be an important step toward improving the quality of training and the workplace environment. Existing attitudes that any driver will do, and that you can always get another one would erode over time as the profession gained respectability in the eyes of the public and employers.
In his report, Dr. Hiscott referenced the National Occupational Standards developed by the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council, which identified tasks and competencies required of professional truck drivers. As evidenced by the report, those within the industry already know that this is a skilled profession. Comments from those interviewed pointed out that the industry has felt for some time that the NOC code is out of date and not reflective of the skills, training and knowledge required of professional drivers.
Other comments pointed to the increased emphasis on safety in the form of pre-trip inspections and reporting, additional responsibility for documentation (in particular when crossing the US border), the demands to comply with new regulation such as hours-of-service, and the use of electronic and satellite communication.
Here are a few more job requirements as put forward by interviewees: the complexities of understanding weight distribution and axle weight allowances; routing to ensure the most efficient and cost-effective deliveries; knowledge of cargo securement requirements; qualifying for cross-border driving; the ability to operate vehicle combinations with multiple articulating points; and the importance of the driver’s role in customer service.
Sure sounds like a skilled profession to me, and Dr. Hiscott seems to agree. The report recommended changing the description of duties for truck drivers to reflect the standards developed by CTHRC and the industry. The report also supports the importance of training through a vocational or community college program.
There is a lot of detail in the report, but in essence it recognizes the complexity of the job of the truck driver and supports upgrading of NOC 7411 from its current Skill Level ‘C’ to that of Skill Level ‘B.’
This upgrade essentially recognizes the duration and extent of the new training reality for truck drivers and the complexity of the job, all of which should be good news for drivers and for the industry, but only if the recommendation is accepted by Human Resources and Social Development Canada. •
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