Trucking outlook for Manitoba

by Truck West

WINNIPEG, Man.Leading up to its annual general meeting in Winnipeg April 8, Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA) executive director Terry Shaw sat down with Truck West’s editor to talk about some of the issues the trucking industry is facing in the Keystone Province and throughout Canada today.

TW: Start by giving us an overview of the state of the trucking industry as it stands right now in Manitoba.

Shaw: We’re doing well. I think you’ll hear consistently across Western Canada, and all of Canada, that business is depressed right now. That’s not a surprise to anybody. The highs and lows you see as you get further out west, we’re certainly not experiencing those in Manitoba as dramatically.

That said, anybody you ask, the consensus would be that they’re not as busy as they would like to be, but overall we’re holding our own. We’re hearing from members that things are going well, we are still getting calls regularly on our MPI (Manitoba Public Insurance) driver-training program; again, not in the volumes we were when things were really cooking, but it’s not at a complete standstill by any stretch.

TW: Expand a little bit on how the economic downturn, particularly in Alberta, has had an effect on the industry in Manitoba, and if it has had any affect on the MTA’s membership.

Shaw: To be honest with you, there are upsides and downsides. The downside is just the general volumes. It’s not Albertan trucking companies that service Alberta, obviously there’s a lot of inter-provincial work that goes on, but they also source product from all over, and Manitoba companies are certainly involved in moving that product in and out.

So with the decline in activity, it’s certainly impacting members across Canada. Quite frankly, one of the positives, is a lot of the people who we lost out west on the job front are coming back home right now. So on the technician and driver side we are hearing from some of our members that these folks are making their way back and are seeking employment in Manitoba.

TW: How does the return of these workers have any affect on the province when it comes to supply and demand?

Shaw: What I’ve heard from members is that there are a couple of issues; one is that they’ve seen this before, like in 2009 when things got really tough, and it was short-lived.

What they found was that a lot of people were coming in and then leaving again a couple of years later, and some of our members are being a little bit more particular with who they might bring on.

What they’re also hearing and a bit more cognizant of is that these people are coming back and saying, ‘Hey, I need to earn oilfield wages,’ and we’re simply not paying that, and that’s part of the stability that is Manitoba; we don’t have those really dramatic highs and lows, so we’re a bit more realistic in our needs and what we have on offer for drivers and technicians.

TW: Staying on the topic of drivers: many people are predicting a looming driver shortage in the near future, so how can the industry get better at attracting more drivers and how does the MTA fit into that?

Shaw: We could be here all day on that question. There are layers – nationally, we’ve got a task force on the driver shortage. They’re discussing some national options on what our industry can do. We’re working with Trucking Human Resources Canada on some resources, and how we can change our ads…30 cents a mile, 40 or 50 cents a mile means something to a truck driver, it doesn’t mean anything to a 20-year-old. We need to change our messaging a little bit and Trucking HR Canada has been working on tools in that regard.

We’re working on getting the national occupational classification of truck driving changed from unskilled to semi-skilled, which will allow us to attract and engage more training resources and hopefully get a bit of cache for the job that is truck driver.

We routinely hear that we need to help people get their licence, but we don’t.

We need to help people become trained so that they are ready and able to work as truck drivers.

So how we’re doing that provincially, is we’re working with MPI’s Special Risk Extension group on the MPI entry level driver training program, which connects the student with a job so that there’s pre-qualifications going on prior to them even taking any training.

Once the industry vets these candidates…then they get funded training through MPI, then they get their Class 1 licence, they report to that employer for the next day and they get paid on-the-job training, they then work under a mentor for two years, after that they’re a graduated entry-level driver.

We’re working with Apprenticeship Manitoba to try and get the trade of ‘truck driver’ created.

TW: Where do you think industry is when it comes to attracting more women, Aboriginals and those from other countries into the profession?

Shaw: I was asked that question by the federal labour minister just last week. When it comes to attracting different communities, there’s certainly a lot more than can be done, and we need to do a lot more.

The concern we have right now is that we can’t even get our basic baseline training covered through the educational system.

We are still promoting the concept of mandatory entry-level drive training for commercial drivers. In order to drive a forklift, you need to take some mandatory pre-employment training; in order to get a motorcycle in Manitoba, you need to take some mandatory, pre-licensing training; in order to legally cut hair in Manitoba, you have to go to school for two years; but in order to work as a commercial truck driver, you have to pass your Class 1 licence, which maybe takes a couple of hours.

Once we get that baseline entry-level training in place, that’s when we can work on those next steps. It comes down to that attraction issue. Why aren’t people coming? Maybe it’s because the job itself is challenging, but it’s compounded by these other issues that people don’t necessarily connect the dots to.

TW: The trucking industry seems to be moving toward being greener, or environmentally friendly, and is coming up with new technologies in an effort to do so. What is the MTA’s position on this matter?

Shaw: At the national level, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) is doing a lot work with the upcoming GHG (greenhouse gas) regulations.

We have a paper that we’ve put out that we’re using provincially, nationally and internationally to try and get our message across. Here in Manitoba, we signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the province that we would both commit to working on environmentally friendly items that are industry-friendly.

We appreciate our greenhouse gas footprint, but the province, to its credit, also appreciates that we are a critical industry, we’re not going to go away and we use the most efficient vehicles we have available to us, which today are vehicle that burn diesel, so how do we get greater education, greater awareness and more tools in the hands of industry quicker, and that’s part of what we’re doing with the province.

We are working on something called our Greener Trucking Fuel Efficiency Initiative; it’ll be a rebate-style program for people who do utilize the approved technologies – aerodynamics, tires, things like that – can work toward applying for rebates.

In Manitoba, the province had a push on to increase the biodiesel limit mandate from the 2% minimum up to 5%, and that was something our members pushed back on Manitoba is still at 2%. We support alternative fuels, but they need to be tested, they need to work in our Manitoba environment in our vehicles, and biodiesel in its current form just wasn’t the most combust-effective means of achieving that.

TW: There is a new CTA chairman, Gene Orlick, who spoke with us recently. Can you speak to what the MTA’s role is with relation to the CTA?

Shaw: Gene is a great guy and I think we’ll be served very will with him in that seat. In terms of the CTA, it’s kind of an up and down situation. As staff, I’m the caretaker of our association here in Manitoba, and so when our board takes a position, it’s my responsibility to raise that issue to be appropriate to have some discussion or decision at that level.

And on the other side of that, when we have national discussions about greenhouse gases and other like elements, it’s my job to capture those discussions, bring them back to our Manitoba members for ratification and implementation. ELDs, mandatory entry-level driver training; those are all national positions that we hold, but they are going to be implemented provincially, so that’s my responsibility.

TW: With a Manitoba election taking place April 19, and provincial parties seeking the MTA’s input on transportation matters, what are some of your concerns when it comes to road infrastructure?

Shaw: Manitoba is the timber bridge capital of Canada.

We have a lot of bridge structures that need addressing.

Our greatest concern when it comes to infrastructure is that there is a lot of spending going on, there’s a lot of activity in that area, and a phrase I’ve stolen is that a lot of people ask if a project is shovel ready, and our question is, is it shovel worthy?

Investing in infrastructure has to be done strategically, because we have such an infrastructure deficit in Manitoba, all the more reason that we have to prioritize and be strategic when we make these decisions.

We are promoting the concept of a Manitoba transportation authority, which should remove some of the politicking that happens with these decisions. What we’re seeing with the different parties that are campaigning, they are campaigning on spending even more (on infrastructure), which is fantastic, but we need to spend the right money in the right place

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