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Young guns

TORONTO, Ont. - There's a paradox in today's trucking industry - the industry is growing but the number of people in it is not. Across the board, there's a shortage - from drivers to heavy-duty techni...


REFLECTING ON THE GAPS: As more drivers near retirement age, there are growing gaps in all areas of trucking that young people can fill - but you need to be proactive in attracting them. Truck News file photo
REFLECTING ON THE GAPS: As more drivers near retirement age, there are growing gaps in all areas of trucking that young people can fill - but you need to be proactive in attracting them. Truck News file photo

TORONTO, Ont. – There’s a paradox in today’s trucking industry – the industry is growing but the number of people in it is not. Across the board, there’s a shortage – from drivers to heavy-duty technicians. In one of Canada’s vital industries that moves more than 70 per cent of trade across the Canada-U.S. border, there’s a vital need for new people to keep the industry dynamic and thriving.

“Investing in people is a good business strategy,” says Betsy Sharples, human resources manager at the Ontario Trucking Association.

“More and more companies are realizing that people are their most important asset. You can have the largest company with a yard full of trucks, but it doesn’t do you any good without the people,” she says.

These days, an injection of young, new people into your transportation business is probably more important for long-term success, than an injection of new capital or cash.

“The industry has to sell itself as an industry, to young people…it has a lot more opportunities than what most people know about it. They think of trucking and they think of truck drivers when we know there are a variety of different positions within the transportation and trucking sector that young people could be attracted to,” says Linda Gauthier, managing director of the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC).

Career Highways, an 11-part video series, attempts to educate young people about all the opportunities in trucking – from being a driver, to working on the customer service desk. “At least 300 high schools in Ontario have the full series,” says Sharples.

The video series produced in 2000 by the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) and Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), was offered free of charge to Ontario secondary schools.

It puts a positive, dynamic face on the industry that employs five per cent of the Canadian workforce. And this is what every trucking industry organization and related business, needs to do, affirms John MacDonald, an Ottawa consultant and trainer with 35 years of experience in the transportation sector.

“If young people in school see going into trucking, or being truck mechanics, as a lucrative, positive career choice, then they’ll go for it and take these kinds of opportunities,” says MacDonald.

A crucial ingredient in rejuvenating the industry is the need for individual companies to be proactive and make a commitment to hiring and nurturing young people who can fill the growing gaps – not just be aware that there’s a problem in the industry.

A 1998 sector study update on human resources issues in the Canadian trucking industry done by the CTHRC found that there will be a steadily increasing demand for new drivers to replace 20 to 30 per cent of drivers who will be retiring by 2008, or drivers who have left the industry.

It also found anticipated growth in the need for people in dispatch. The CTHRC is currently conducting new research into the challenges and opportunities faced by the trucking industry.

“We’ve just said, we’re not going to wait for industry. We’re going to do what we need to do,” says Debra Rose, director of organizational development at OK Transportation Ltd. in Toronto.

Rose says OK Transportation has made a “huge” commitment to hiring and training younger people, even going as far as taking on a 19-year-old driver when the norm is seeking drivers who are at least 21, with a minimum of two years experience.

OK has established a driver apprenticeship program, which puts new drivers through a 12-month training program in the company.

“We spend time and train them and invest in their future, so hopefully, they’ll invest in ours,” says Rose.

“It’s hard work. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy and effort on training, and are looking at doing more in 2003. It’s a real team effort, and being committed to working with these kids. When I see a young face, I’m ecstatic.”

“It’s a matter of putting yourself second, and putting these kids first. And just doing what we need to do to train and support them and make them feel important and let them know that there are really good caring companies out there,” Rose adds.

Young people, she says, can be nurtured as long as they have “a great attitude.”

Bringing them into your organization and training them on the job to grow within, promotes loyalty to the company, she adds.

Linda Gauthier suggests that companies in the industry need to undertake initiatives such as letting young people visit their operations to see how they work, do internships and work summer jobs.

“All we have to do is look at what some of the other industries are doing, and adapt whatever fits into our sector,” she says.

“Innovation and a modern outlook” will go a long way towards rejuvenating your transportation business, affirms MacDonald.

Sometimes it’s a matter of resources – it may not seem practical to be hiring on younger drivers and committing to training them if you have only a small fleet and not the real resources required to train and nurture new people. “Partner with somebody in the industry and share resources,” suggests Rose.

Dan Bloomer, the coordinator of heavy-duty, truck/trailer and truck/coach mechanic programs at Centennial College’s Ashtonbee Campus, points out that many of the people who head fleets today started as heavy-duty mechanics.

He’d like to see more of them becoming ambassadors, to motivate more young people to take up the skilled trades.

“I deal with people today that I had come through here years ago when I started. I’ve hired back people to teach. So the opportunities are there. You need to use some of the people who are out there as examples, success stories of where this could lead you,” Bloomer says.

In the Centennial College Modified Apprenticeship Program (MAP), partnered by Freightliner and Volvo, technicians are trained to company standards, before they go out into the work force.

“The idea is that they bring in young people and train them from day one to their standards, instead of just trying to hire people and get them working in the shop and sending them to school,” says Bloomer.

There’s a shortage of skilled tradespeople across the board largely because of old stereotypes, says Gauthier.

“For a very long time the impetus was get a university degree and become a professional; a professionally recognized occupation like a doctor or lawyer. But there are many who aren’t suitable for that, and the trades is an area where we need people. It can be very rewarding and satisfying.”

Refreshing your transportation business with younger blood is a two-sided coin, says MacDonald. “There needs to be commitment from all sides.”


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