Truck News


Special Report: Looming Crisis

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Attracting and retaining drivers is proving to be a double-edged sword for fleets.Driver turnover is increasing, and new drivers aren't exactly breaking down cab doors to fill seats....

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Attracting and retaining drivers is proving to be a double-edged sword for fleets.

Driver turnover is increasing, and new drivers aren’t exactly breaking down cab doors to fill seats.

Between 1997 and 2000, 43 per cent of all retirees were younger than 60-years-old. As the baby boomer generation creeps ever closer to retirement, companies must seek new ways to fill their shoes.

John MacDonald, an Ottawa-based transportation consultant and instructor, says it’s not difficult to see why fleets aren’t exactly overwhelmed with resumes from young transportation enthusiasts.

“Once upon a time, transportation was seen as an attractive, interesting and exciting career choice,” says MacDonald. “Transportation has become, in many areas, just another business and a rather dreary one at that.”

MacDonald says he and other educators face the daunting task of once again making transportation an exciting career choice for young people. But that’s no easy job given the poor public image plaguing the trucking industry in recent years.

“We are seen as slow to adapt and slow to change,” points out MacDonald.

He won’t get any argument from Teamsters Local 31 president, Garnet Zimmerman, who says government and industry shoulder equal blame when it comes to the current crisis.

“In my opinion, government and employers do not properly value the contribution of the truck driver,” says Zimmerman. “If the industry hopes to attract and retain qualified workers, certain things have to be considered.”

He suggests the quality of life, level of respect and compensation drivers receive all have to be improved if the industry expects to attract more workers.

“The baby boomer generation is less focused on work and more focused on leisure and the quality of lifestyle today,” says Zimmerman. “Fewer and fewer families are finding it acceptable for one party to be away from home for several weeks at a time.”

He suggests carriers try harder to get their drivers home on a regular basis and for longer periods of time.

“This will require increased co-ordination by dispatchers and a steadier flow of regular cargo,” admits Zimmerman.

He also forecasts a shift in the way companies do business, which would see them become more reliant on company drivers. He says they may have little choice in the matter, as owner/operators are inching ever closer to a spot on the endangered species list. Zimmerman notes the bankruptcy rate among owner/ops is at 55 per cent, and in his home province of B.C., there were 840 bankruptcies last year alone.

“That impact not only hurts the industry, but it hurts every individual, because in most cases they’re leaving a substantial debt behind when they’re walking away,” says Zimmerman. He calls on carriers to start treating O/Os like company drivers and extending the same benefits to them.

The lack of skilled workers in trucking is far-reaching, and goes beyond just the driver. Executives and managers are also getting older, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find talented replacements.

MacDonald also has some ideas on how to lure young talent into the industry. Topping his list is the move towards establishing a well-recognized career definition for the transportation professional.

“Transportation has never been able to successfully corral the skills and abilities required by our industry into a readily recognizable profession,” says MacDonald. “It has been increasingly important to young people to be quickly recognized, not just for who they are, but for what they are and what they do.”

What does the current skills shortage mean for current truckers and industry executives?

Jock Finlayson is the vice-president of policy for the Business Council of B.C. He insists experienced people in the industry stand to be the big winners.

“It’s more or less inevitable that if something is in short supply, the price is going to rise and as skilled workers become increasingly in short supply I can only anticipate some upward pressure on compensation to result from that,” says Finlayson. “I see a high probability of continuous increases in compensation that will be afforded to highly skilled sectors of the labor force.”

Finlayson also predicts that there will be more career shifts and more job-hopping within the industry.

“As we move into an environment of increasing labor scarcity, workers are going to be more confident that they can find employment if they choose to leave their current job,” says Finlayson.

That puts more pressure on carriers to treat their drivers well, considering that studies show 80 per cent of job moves in the U.S involve jumping ship to another fleet.

One of the biggest concerns for Finlayson is the trend of early retirements, and he suggests Canada follow in the footsteps of Sweden and the U.S. in extending the formal age of retirement.

MacDonald agrees that something clearly needs to be done.

“Early retirement remains the favorite tool for workforce adjustments,” says MacDonald.

While the trucking industry isn’t facing the skills shortage alone, MacDonald points out, “We may be alone in the apparent lethargy demonstrated by some parties in addressing the problem.”

And that doesn’t bode well when other industries are addressing personnel shortages by scanning the trucking ranks for new hires.

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