It is difficult to imagine a labour shortage in the midst of economic difficulties, when many trucks are idled by a lack of freight. But hiring requirements echo the peaks and valleys of the economy, and they continue to be influenced by demographic realities like an aging workforce.
Make no mistake: the trucking industry can expect more labour shortages to come, and they will not be limited to roles behind the wheel. In the next five years, Canada’s maintenance shops are expected to require 5,200 new truck/transport mechanics, 3,800 truck/transport technicians, and 1,700 parts technicians, according to the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council’s new Labour Information Highway Demand Data Tools. Inside the fleet offices, there will be a need for 4,100 dispatchers and 1,700 freight claims and safety/loss specialists. They will require the support of 7,200 cargo workers and another 2,900 shunt drivers to prepare freight and equipment alike. The needs even extend to management roles, with the requirement for another 3,800 foremen, supervisors and managers. That does not begin to address the need to replace those who retire or leave the trucking industry for other reasons.
These projections are more than a number-crunching exercise. About 65% of the 1,004 carriers who were interviewed for the Canadian Trucking Human Resource Council’s recent Beyond the Wheel research initiative say they already have significant trouble recruiting and retaining dispatchers, mechanics, truck and trailer technicians, supervisors and managers -and that is in the midst of a struggling economy. To compound matters, there are a number of factors that will make it difficult to attract the future employees.
Wages paid to those who fill these roles were actually pushed down in recent years, after driver-hungry fleets began to invest a larger share of their revenue into those who work behind the wheel, the research shows. Today’s dispatchers are often paid less than the drivers they dispatch; the industry’s supervisors and managers often make less than their counterparts in other sectors.
Potential recruits may also have a hard time identifying a defined career path in the trucking industry, in part because of a lack of formal training programs to guide the way. With the exception of apprenticed trades, there are few examples of training initiatives that will lead to occupations such as dispatchers, safety and loss prevention specialists, cargo workers or dock foremen, researchers found. Most of the training that does occur tends to happen on the job.
Job candidates from outside the trucking industry may face a number of other barriers when they decide to explore careers in trucking. Carriers, for example, often disagree on whether industry experience is needed for roles such as dispatchers, managers and supervisors. “If you haven’t lived it and done it, then the respect isn’t there,” one employer argued during the CTHRC research. “Give me someone who is motivated and willing to learn. I don’t care where they come from because I can teach them about the industry,” another employer countered.
They are factors that can lead a potentially valuable job candidate to look elsewhere. Many Canadians even dismiss trucking careers altogether. Those who are not interested in working as a driver often fail to realize the other jobs that exist. Besides that, the trucking industry continues to suffer a poor public image when workers look at career options. The available jobs are often seen as a last resort for young people and high school dropouts. As a result, the quality of the remaining recruits can be lacking.
The youngest workers among them are also more likely than ever to look for a job that offers 9 to 5 shifts on weekdays, complete with higher starting wages that they might find in other careers. In the face of that reality, the trucking industry’s recruiters are left to explore internal resources, such as the family members of existing employees, or simply hire people away from other trucking occupations.
But there are options to explore, according to the Beyond the Wheel research initiative. Many employers have successfully introduced young people to careers in trucking with the help of co-op placements and summer employment. Recruiting strategies can also be refined with the help of available data, and there are opportunities to pursue underrepresented groups such as women, recent immigrants and Aboriginal candidates.
It is simply a matter of planning for the needs to come.
For a complete copy of the Beyond the Wheel research results, or to further analyze labour needs in your region, visit www.cthrc.com.
Funded by the Government of Canada’s Sector Council Program, the Canadian Trucking HR Council (CTHRC) is an incorporated not-for-profit organization that helps attract, train and retain workers for Canada’s trucking industry. For more information, visit www.cthrc.com.
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