We need to stop eating our young

by Bruce Richards

They say the future is in our own hands. I can only offer qualified support for that philosophy because I believe the future of this industry is in the hands of two different groups, segregated by the demographics of age.

And further, if we don’t find a way to bring the two together, everyone stands to lose. The stats are there for anyone who cares to read them. Commercial drivers are aging and they are leaving the industry faster than they are being replaced by that younger demographic – the group that the industry says it both wants and needs.

Even if we found a magical formula today to replace retiring drivers, getting the numbers up isn’t enough. It will be a long time before we replace the years of experience those retirees have taken with them. And, by the way, there is no magic formula so we are stuck with both issues.

And this problem is not limited to the commercial driver issue. Young people are not beating down the doors of the trucking community, crying out to be a part of it all. Although this industry needs to fill the same type of positions as any other business, we can’t attract the people to do it.

The positions we need to fill, apart from those that make the trucks operate, run the gamut of sales staff, accountants, engineers, office clerks, warehouse personnel, billing clerks, to…well, you get the picture. Trucking operations, whether private or for-hire, are competing with other industries for the people we need – and we are losing that competition.

The most commonly accepted axiom for this malaise is that the industry has a poor image, and not many parents encourage their offspring to seek out a career in trucking.

If that is truly the core problem then the industry can do something about it – and to that extent the future is in our hands.
Companies that want their drivers to be part of the ‘family’ on a long-term basis are miles ahead of those that treat drivers poorly and accept high turnover rates as normal business. They are taking direct action, and it works on many levels.

Those companies are also selective when hiring staff, recognizing that they can keep their best people if they treat them well. This goes far beyond a paycheque. It includes mentoring and training programs that put their new hires on a path of continuous learning and providing opportunities for them to really contribute to the company.

Senior people in this industry tell me that when it comes to encouraging young people to succeed in trucking, we simply do not do very well.

“We eat our young,” one senior executive told me in conversation recently. “We do not encourage them to be part of what for many is an exciting business, and we don’t listen to their ideas.”

It would take a strong-minded individual to take a pragmatic look at that statement and honestly assess whether it’s true within their own company. It would take an even stronger individual who, having found some truth in the statement, does something about it.

On one level, change can happen if the industry’s current leaders want to take the initiative; if they go beyond acceptance of the situation and begin the process of making their own company an inviting place for younger people to work. On another, broader level, we need support. Last month I wrote about what I consider to have been a short-sighted decision by the federal government – specifically Human Resources and Skills Development Canada – to put an end to the Sector Council program.

Under that program HRSDC had been supporting the work of the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) with verifiable results. CTHRC developed research reports on industry demographics and licensing practices that identified significant gaps and trends. Additionally, CTHRC developed practical training tools for those at the entry level and those who manage them. These were only some of the positive results of this collaboration between government and industry.

That collaboration was, in my view, helping to lead the industry toward better human resource practices, which, over time, ought to have led to an industry that young people would at least consider joining.  

Now we are on our own – back where we started from, but hopefully with a little better appreciation of the human resource challenges and the tools available to meet those challenges. One small step that holds promise for PMTC was the recent launch of our Young Leaders program. We don’t even have an official name for the group yet, but the early results are promising. The response to a call-out to PMTC members for those interested generated a very diverse group of young people who attended the kick-off meeting. They offered their thoughts on what they wanted from this industry and what they felt they could contribute. The enthusiasm was contagious and very encouraging.

The PMTC’s initiative won’t be enough on its own to generate an influx of young, bright minds to the trucking industry. But, just for a moment, consider the potential for groups like this to influence the industry if they have a forum to contribute new ideas, or even old ideas with a new twist.

If you fit that younger demographic mode and would like to be part of this group, call us at the PMTC. If you are already part of a similar group call us and let’s see what we have to share.

It’s not only your future – we’re in this together.

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