Private Links: Inadequate Hiring Standards Perpetuate Driver Shortage

by Bruce Richards

Research conducted for the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council reveals employers might be partly responsible for the shortage of qualified drivers.

At a recent meeting with the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, CTHRC’s executive director Linda Gauthier presented the results of current research that surprised many of the fleet managers in the room. Two basic facts were accepted during the research. They included a perception among fleet operators that there is a shortage of qualified drivers, and that the shortage is one of the top two concerns for fleet operators.

In examining the reasons for this shortage, employers interviewed were collectively of the opinion that the leading factors were poor compensation, poor quality of life and working conditions, a perception that driving was an unattractive occupation and that training schools are not providing quality graduates.

Drivers and employers seem to be in agreement on some of those concerns. Among the drivers who were interviewed, 41 per cent said they quit to find better pay and 36 per cent found the work so unattractive that they got a job outside of driving.

The curious thing is that employers readily acknowledge the validity of concerns regarding poor compensation and working conditions but, generally speaking, they have done nothing about them. As a result, drivers continue to quit companies in search of greener pastures.

Other thought provoking revelations were found in how fleets approach the challenge of finding and keeping drivers. The good news is that 57 per cent of the fleets interviewed had no terminations or lay-offs within their driver population. However, 13 per cent of fleets reported that over 30 per cent of their driver complement had been terminated or laid off.

The research also delved into why drivers are fired. According to employers, 38 per cent of drivers fired were considered to be poorly qualified and another 17 per cent simply had poor driving records. Furthermore, 43 per cent of drivers whose employment had been terminated had been with the company for less than 90 days.

Let’s look at this again. According to employers, the single biggest reason for firing drivers is that they were considered not to be qualified, and most of those terminations happened within 90 days. Doesn’t this beg the question as to why they were hired in the first place?

The research revealed how those drivers got hired, but not the rationale behind the hiring practices of the fleets. Of the employers interviewed, 17 per cent admitted they do not check references or review the driver’s application, 26 per cent do not interview prospective drivers and 37 per cent do not conduct a road test.

Those figures are astonishing. Apparently a good many employers are quite prepared to assume the risk entailed in handing the keys to their truck to someone they have not vetted and who may or may not be qualified to drive it. They would rather do that (and presumably cross their fingers) than park the truck. It’s little wonder that a large percentage of those new hires are terminated within 90 days.

Some respondents to the research questions may quibble about the terminology used, or the definition of a driver interview. But the fact remains that every employer of drivers should be able to unhesitatingly answer yes to all of those questions. At a minimum, every employer should check references, interview drivers, review applications and conduct road tests before hiring a driver. That’s Fleet Management 101. Of course, there is good news in those statistics as well. We know that conscientious fleet operators go well beyond the minimum checks when hiring drivers. That’s one of the reasons their accident records are low and their driver retention high.

But it seems that some fleets simply help perpetuate the shortage of qualified drivers by enabling under-qualified drivers to find work.

And as we back our way up (or down) the driver supply food chain, schools can and will continue to turn out under qualified “graduates,” and licensing bodies can and will continue to conduct inadequate testing of prospective drivers – because someone will apparently hire them. The trucking industry has the power to change direction. By implementing meaningful, across-the-board hiring standards the industry would put pressure on schools to produce qualified graduates, and on licensing bodies to ensure competence before granting a licence.

If the industry moved toward finding and hiring only well-trained, qualified drivers it would then surely see the advantages of addressing the issues of compensation and working conditions in order to keep those drivers.

The potential benefits of having truck driving established as a profession that sets meaningful standards for its participants are almost immeasurable.

Without a doubt, industry wide hiring standards would be a significant first step toward making truck driving an attractive profession and increasing the number of qualified candidates for positions.

– The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. This column presents opinions on trucking issues from the perspective of private carriers. Comments can be addressed to

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