I was walking around a toy store a few days ago and something struck me: there were hardly any toy trucks for sale. In fact, apart from Bob the Builder's construction equipment and a few Transformers, there was nothing that resembled a big...
I was walking around a toy store a few days ago and something struck me: there were hardly any toy trucks for sale. In fact, apart from Bob the Builder’s construction equipment and a few Transformers, there was nothing that resembled a big truck at all. As I have written before, all I ever played with as a kid were my model trucks. My friends all had toy trucks too; not all of them wanted to become truck drivers, but they all saw a truck as a fun thing. But kids today don’t get that opportunity.
Twenty years ago if you asked a classroom full of kids what they wanted to be when they grew up, a good percentage would have replied that they wanted to drive truck. Ask the same question today and the answers will be very different. Back then you would get answers based on the stuff they played with; the same applies today, but they don’t play with toy trucks anymore so the idea of driving one for real never pops into their head.
This is one of the reasons we are experiencing a driver shortage again. We have no fresh new blood entering the industry, which is a big problem. As older drivers retire, we need youngsters coming in at the other end. Trucking used to be a family tradition, that’s no longer the case. Children of lorry drivers see their friends’ parents doing stuff with them on weekends and during holidays while they rarely see their own parents. Most drivers don’t want that kind of life for their children when they grow up, so they guide them towards other careers.
This all leaves a gaping hole in the industry’s recruitment pool. So, how do we fill it? We’ve tried immigration, with some success. I’m living proof of that, but that’s not the answer, not long-term anyway. We have to make the job more attractive. More money is one way, but it’s not going to fix the problem. The biggest drawback to our industry is the fact that we’re away from home all the time. Most of you, like myself, will have no problems with this, but we’re already in the industry. Not only are we in the industry, but we have an interest in it too, that’s why you’re reading this.
To attract new recruits we need to move with the times. The world is changing and we need to get up to speed before we lose what we have. You think that’s not possible? Surely we’re safe, right? We have legislation that protects us from American carriers moving freight within our borders. Yes we do, but when we stop being able to cope with the amount of freight that needs to be moved and the grocery stores have empty shelves and the factories have no raw materials to produce their goods, you can bet your bottom dollar that new laws are passed to allow the freight to be moved by anyone with 18 wheels.
I’ve seen this happen in Britain. We had a driver shortage; first of all we imported drivers from within Europe (mostly from the former Communist countries), we attracted them with higher wages than they could possibly earn in their homelands. This solved the problem, for a while. Then to finally fix the problem the European governments opened up the borders. The immigrant workers used their newfound wealth to buy their own trucks, register them in their own country (with much cheaper operating costs) and have now all but taken over the international transport industry in Great Britain. I spent much of my career driving international routes, but one by one all the jobs disappeared.
The pilot program for Mexican trucks to cross the US border is now in place. Anyone who has been to any of the border cities will know that there are lots of Canadian trucks down there every day. We do a lot of business with Mexico, at present it all goes as far as the southern US border on a Canadian truck, but if we have nobody to drive them, pretty soon the Mexican truck that delivers the load to the border will be crossing that border and the next border too and delivering the load in Canada. With their lower operating costs, they’ll be able to take a load from Canada back down to Mexico much cheaper than we can and before you know it, that freight lane will no longer be financially viable to a Canadian carrier. We need to protect what we have; not just the Canada-Mexico lane, that’s only the acorn from which a large oak tree will grow. Looking at the industry today, the only way I see that we can do that is to resolve our driver shortage problems.
Money alone will not do that, so we need to look at what the next generation of truck drivers wants from a job. More money is a priority, but it’s not number one, that’s more time at home.
Now it hurts me to even think about this as I love the long-haul life – I moved halfway around the world so that I could carry on trucking – but we’re going to have to offer more regional jobs where drivers can do a trip in a day.
It’ll need to be a shorter day than 14 hours, too. We have to offer similar conditions as other industries to be able to get young people interested in joining our industry. Most people don’t really care who it is delivering the food to the grocery store. They couldn’t care less about which country the truck’s registered in, they only care about the shelves being full. We’re the only ones that care, so we have to do something about it now, before it’s too late.