Truck News


The quest for skills

WINNIPEG, Man. - Those I want, wouldn't want me; and those that want me, the Devil himself wouldn't want.While this old saying is generally used in reference to the opposite sex, it seems to sum up th...

WINNIPEG, Man. – Those I want, wouldn’t want me; and those that want me, the Devil himself wouldn’t want.

While this old saying is generally used in reference to the opposite sex, it seems to sum up the skills shortage currently facing fleets and, on a larger scale, the entire transportation industry.

Armed with hopes of developing solutions for companies caught in this grey matter wasteland, the Western Transportation Advisory Council (WESTAC) recently brought together more than 70 delegates to the seat of the Manitoba Legislature.

Smaller breakout groups tackled a trio of themes, with two examining recruiting, two more looking at training and a single team eyeballing retention. Given transport’s inability to recruit new stars to the industry – to say nothing of the high costs often associated with training – holding on to future top performers long enough for them to fully develop is seen by many as the best way for fleets to attack the skills shortage.

“We have a real problem retaining people,” George Hucker, vice-president and national legislative representative for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, says on behalf of Canada’s railways. “The only industry worse is trucking.”

With the price of trucker turnover pegged at as much as $10,000 and similar railway conductor costs pulling into the station at about $80,000, the incentive for employers to do a better job is obvious.

The top reasons people leave transportation careers for so-called ‘sexier’ vocations were identified as irregular work schedules; rules regarding seniority that influence dispatch procedures; perceived uncertainty of jobs due to the somewhat seasonal nature of many niche transport markets and historic trends of down-sizing; the complete absence of succession planning; and a relatively long timeline for advancement.

In much the same way trucking used to draw its new executives from the driving ranks, Bob Sharpe, the alternate vice-president of the United Transportation Union, says new conductors and locomotive engineers, “used to come in from other parts of the railway.”

He insists this simply isn’t happening anymore.

Despite annual wages approaching six figures, he says the lifestyle is not for everyone.

Rail and trucking may not see eye-to-eye on much, but both face an ageing work force, life under the reign of just-in-time delivery schedules and relatively poor public image.

“We have more pensioners than we have employees,” jokes Hucker. “Management is too short sighted … the decisions made in the ’70s are biting us in the butt today.”

Insistent there needs to be better planning to bring in new employees in advance of the next massive wave of retirements, he adds there’s a need to look at new training techniques like mentoring, job shadowing and, to some extent, apprenticeships.

“Unfortunately,” explains Dan Highway, WESTAC retention group facilitator, “there’s never a problem until it’s a crisis.”

So how can transport companies hope to escape this inevitable crisis? The work group determined it would require scheduling loads to allow workers to enjoy some semblance of normality in their lives, removing barriers preventing people from all walks of life from accessing opportunities, and banking on older employees retiring and taking a proactive approach to recruiting and training their replacements.

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