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We’re not getting any younger

Of the myriad issues facing truck transportation in North America, none may be as potentially impactful for its future as the seemingly innate inability to attract young people to the workforce. And in many respects the industry is the author...


Of the myriad issues facing truck transportation in North America, none may be as potentially impactful for its future as the seemingly innate inability to attract young people to the workforce. And in many respects the industry is the author of its own misfortune.

A good deal has been written about trucking’s aging workforce. Often those articles focus on the driving corps, but the issue is much broader. Mechanics, technicians, office staff and other so-called white collar workers (although you seldom see a white collar in the office these days) are equally in demand.

The usual manner of addressing the issue in the short-term is for one company to poach from another, maintaining the cycle but not doing anything that will have a longer-term impact on improving the situation. The quick fix approach is understandable, but a longer-term view is needed if the industry is to have a prosperous future.

Research by the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) a few years ago identified that the largest proportion of Canadian drivers was over 40 years of age and that 27% were over 50. Absent an influx of younger people to the industry, this situation can’t improve.

The need to attract young people is not unique to trucking of course – every conceivable industry wants to do exactly that. But because young people do not rate trucking very high on their list of chosen fields of employment, and due to age restrictions on entry, competing for that talent is a difficult chore.

We know many of the reasons why trucking is not seen as a desirable vocation: low pay, long hours, potentially lengthy time away from home, poor training, limited opportunity for career advancement – little wonder that truck driving, and the industry generally is not seen by the broader populace as any more than a default job.

And then as if to pile on, we have government departments that look for the least expensive – rather than the best – training that can be offered for those seeking to become a driver.

This approach can point potential drivers to substandard training that will not lead to a good job. It’s not a very encouraging start to a career in trucking.

Another example of obstructionism is British Columbia’s recent decision to change its funding model that pretty much makes it unaffordable for young people to get the level of driver training that the industry wants in a new hire.

The irony is that despite the image issue, there are many trucking companies and private fleets that operate in a professional manner, that treat their employees well, that offer training and advancement opportunities – in short, that do all the things companies in other industries do in order to attract and keep good employees. And yet, the image of the industry remains an over-riding obstacle to attracting new talent.

So, the long-term question becomes, can the industry do something to promote its more attractive side and thereby become of interest to young people?

One step is for trucking companies with hiring and retention issues to take a hard look at their human resources policies. For many, that might mean beginning at the start and actually developing those policies, and then training their management group on using them effectively.

Once again there is help at hand. For those truly interested in improving their hiring and retention practices, the CTHRC’s Guide to Human Resources for the Trucking Industry provides the answer.

PMTC recently hosted a small group of fleet operators in a walk-through of the guide and the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. The guide’s three volumes cover a lot of ground, but its templates and instructions make it relatively easy for any carrier to develop HR policies and practices that can help make their operations more effective, and help attract people for all positions.

Another interesting initiative is Quebec’s attempt to attract and train young people in the 17-18 years of age bracket to become drivers. This was the subject of a Truck News article by Carroll McCormick in the September issue and was a topic of conversation during a recent meeting of the PMTC Board of Directors.

Some expressed concerns with having people of that age group in charge of a transport truck, but the components of the program may allay some of those fears. The requirements, which include pre-screening of applicants, high-level training, a probationary period, an experienced company mentor, and ongoing evaluations of the probationary driver, seem designed to make this program successful.

So, what conclusions can be drawn on the subject of how the trucking industry can compete in the entry-level employee market and sustain its future workforce?

Well, there are a lot of negatives, as itemized above, but solutions to the problem are being offered that, if acted on, could help make our industry one of choice for our target market.

The opportunity to improve HR practices (CTHRC’s guide) will lead to better hiring and retention practices and by default a better industry image, and Quebec’s initiative aimed at attracting young people could lead to similar programs in other jurisdictions.

There’s hope yet if we start thinking about the future.


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1 Comment » for We’re not getting any younger
  1. Bruce Williamson says:

    What will “drive” me from this career is the equation;
    Less enforcement on 4-wheelers = more regulation on commercials. Nature abhors a vacuum. Legislated discrimination is it not?
    So now the industry scrambles to employ women, watch what you step in ladies.

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