WINNIPEG, Man. – The trucking industry has a lot of work to do if it wants to attract the next generation of workers.
That was the message from David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, during a presentation at the Manitoba Trucking Association’s (MTA) 87th annual AGM today in Winnipeg.
Having conducted research into the millennial generation and their willingness to enter trucking as a career choice, Coletto found there are several challenges facing the industry.
One is getting young people interested in trucking.
Abacus’ research found that 16% of men and 7% of women would strongly consider a career in trucking, while 29% of men and 62% of women would not even entertain the idea.
Specific to Manitoba, Coletto said 14% of millennials are interested in a long-haul truck driving career, while 48% wanted a blue-collar job and 38% a white-collar career.
Coletto pointed out that though these numbers seem low, with the number of millennial workers in Canada now the highest of any generation, having passed baby boomers in 2015 and numbering 9.5 million, they offer a large number of potential workers to the industry.
“This is the most ethnically and culturally diverse generation ever,” said Coletto. ““Most millennials are over the age of 25 and looking to achieve all those life goals.”
With the average age of those in trucking now at 55, and only 15% under the age of 30, Coletto said the industry must change its approach to how it recruits young workers.
“Doing the same thing over and over and getting the same optimal result is not going to work,” he said.
Coletto highlighted a strategy he called “shift,” which pinpoints what he believes carriers must understand in order to help attract more millennials to their workplace.
Coletto said “shift” means that millennials are “self-educators” and image driven; “hopeful” but increasingly anxious; require “impact” and passion in a career; need “feedback” that is personal and customized; and look for “transparency” and control in an employer.
Image is substantial for younger generations when choosing a career, according to Coletto, who said millennials will ask themselves, “If I work in trucking, what does that say about who I am?”
Data collected by Abacus suggests today’s youth have mixed feelings about the trucking industry.
Fifteen percent say they have a bad or very bad perception of trucking, while 40% is neither good nor bad, and 46% is good or very good.
Compared to trucking’s biggest competitor in the recruitment of millennial workers, 68% have a good or very good view of the construction industry while only 5% negative.
In Manitoba, the numbers are slightly better, with 51% having a positive perception of trucking and 11% bad or very bad.
Comparing the perceptions of men and women, Abacus found that 71% of women feel the trucking industry is unsafe, and 54% of men agreed. Both 61% of men and women believe those in trucking are well paid, but a mere 26% of women and 34% of men said it is enjoyable work.
Only 22% of women and 24% of men feel a career in trucking would offer work-life balance, something important to millennials.
“You have to start telling your story much better,” Coletto said, encouraging the industry to get positive stories out to the masses, “and you have to change where you tell that story.”
Social media and other online sources are where Coletto said carriers must look to get the word out to millennials about what trucking has to offer.
Facebook continues to dominate the social media platforms, with 68% of millennials using the site. YouTube is also popular, followed closely by Instagram, the fastest growing social media platform. TV news is watched by 31% of millennials, and 36% listen to radio news.
Young workers who are actively looking for or have chosen a career in trucking did so primarily because of what they perceive as good compensation. Other factors included the ability to explore Canada and not having to sit in an office or have a boss in the cab.
Manitobans who are interested in a trucking career note the high number of positions available as a drawing factor. They also said good pay, a chance to travel, and that both men and women are welcome were positive aspects.
But Coletto underscored the fact that 48% of respondents, along with 55% from Manitoba, believe the trucking industry is not respected by others.
“When I don’t want this job to define who I am,” he said, “I’m not going to do it for even a short period of time.”
Coletto said the industry must change this perception if it is going to attract young workers.
Building what he called a “millennial-friendly sector” is key to achieving this goal, which includes companies outlining their intentions and purpose, being open and seamless, and providing constant feedback to employees.
“This is not a lost cause, it’s not over,” Coletto said, “but you really have some work to do.”
Changing face of trucking
Fresh on the heels of a series of features depicting the changing face of trucking, Newcom Media’s Lou Smyrlis and Manan Gupta showcased the growing number of South Asians entering the industry.
Smyrlis, managing director of Newcom Trucking and Supply Chain Group, said the numbers are a “stunning detail that Canada has not seen in the last 50 years since after the immigrant boom following the Second World War.”
Smyrlis said the notion that the trucking industry cannot attract new drivers is a myth, but the reality is that it is not bringing in workers in quick enough to keep up with how fast the industry is growing.
As of 2016, research from Newcom Media indicates there are 175,450 male tractor-trailer drivers in Canada and 5,880 women.
One of the main concerns carriers have is the rising age of their workforce. Combined with 12% of drivers saying they plan to retire this year, and 30% in the next two to five years, carriers’ concerns are justified.
“Just think about that,” said Smyrlis, “42% of your workforce gone in the next five years.”
The number of immigrant drivers, however, continues to grow, particularly from the South Asian community.
In 2016, 32.5% of Canada’s truck drivers were immigrants, numbering 58,985, compared to 1991, when there were 7,390 immigrant drivers.
Though South Asian populations are growing nationwide, Smyrlis said many who are in the trucking industry are located in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, as well as the Greater Toronto Area.
“If you’re looking for drivers in those metro areas and you’re not addressing the immigrant labor pool, you’re missing out on a large number of drivers,” said Smyrlis. “India, Pakistan, the Philippines…that’s where your labor pool is coming from.”
Gupta, general manager of Newcom South Asian Media Company, said many South Asians who first immigrated to Canada were not in the trucking industry. But as more found success in commercial transportation by bringing their homegrown skills to the Canadian market, family members followed.
Manan Gupta, left, and Lou Smyrlis.
Challenges, however, still exist for South Asians in the industry, with the language barrier and, as a result, proper training, being at the top of list.
“They missed that element of being trained,” said Gupta. “They entered trucking to make a career out of it, but they were missing those elements of training.”
Gupta said many South Asians from the Punjabi area in India come from a trucking background, though comparatively different than the tractors used in Canada. With Canadian driving conditions vastly different than what is typical in India, Gupta said training, such as mandatory entry-level training, and building a culture of safety is vital to South Asian success in the industry.
“New immigrants can only succeed if they get the right information at the right time,” said Gupta. “Timing is very important.”
Gupta believes the influx of South Asians into the industry will continue, as Newcom Media data indicates they have embraced trucking.
Driving is not the only area where South Asians, who are characteristically entrepreneurial in nature, can thrive. Gupta said many have entered sales positions, as well as dispatchers, management, and ownership.
Gupta also said companies can help attract more immigrant drivers by making an effort to learn and understand cultural differences, meet the needs of those elements, all while not hampering industry requirements.
Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada, added that in 2017, Canada’s temporary foreign worker program brought in 1,700 drivers, and that trucking is considered to be a “high usage” industry of the program.
She said the industry must ensure it is diversifying, including attracting more women, millennials, and Indigenous workers, all of which are large employment pools not well represented in trucking.
Splinter said Trucking HR Canada’s largest current initiative is researching where the shortages are in the industry, and one component of that research is millennials.
“We need to tackle this,” she said, “because we don’t have young people coming into our industry.”