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Addressing the seven elephants in the driver shortage room

Delta Nu Alpha panel takes on controversial issues


MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — A panel discussion last week on the driver shortage took a refreshingly honest tone when discussing the role of Indo-Canadians and women in trucking.

The event, hosted and organized by Delta Nu Alpha, brought in Mark Seymour, president of Kriska Transport and chair of the CTA Driver Shortage Blue Ribbon Task Force; Manan Gupta, editor of Road Today magazine; Angela Splinter, executive director of Trucking HR Canada; and Guy Broderick, driver-trainer with Apps Transport.

Moderated by Mike McCarron, founder of MSM Transportation, the panel took a “macro approach” to the driver shortage, discussing the usual suspects: the image of trucking, EOBRs, mandatory training, recruitment and retention. But it was the time taken during the 90 minute discussion to dig into the various, as McCarron said, “elephants in the room,” that set the panel apart from others on the same topic.

Elephant #1: Is the driver shortage a friend or foe for carriers?

“How motivated are the owners in finding drivers?” McCarron asked. Trucks are full, rates are going up and capacity is good. “Is that demotivating transportation companies from solving this problem?”

“The situation is preventing people from growing organically, thus the reason I recently did what I did,” Seymour said, referring to the recent Kriska/Mullen venture.

According to Seymour, the challenge for most carriers is to seat their unseated trucks and maintaining discipline when it comes to adding capacity.

“The reality is if you can’t seat the unseated trucks you have, why in the hell would you buy more when they’ll just join that unseated group?”

In fact, it all comes down to discipline for Seymour. “We can use this as an opportunity to do some much needed repair on rates and balance sheets, but at the same time I think we need to leverage the positions we have with our customers to be kinder and gentler and more compassionate to our drivers. We had three driver pay increases at Kriska this year alone – three in 12 months – that’s unprecedented. What we have said is we’re going to get more money from the market and we’re going to share it with our drivers.”

Elephant #2: The broken pay problem

Asked if given the opportunity to re-think his decision to become a driver, would he do it again, Broderick responded “in a heartbeat.” But the three-million-km accident-free driver said pay needs to be increased across the board.

Seymour agreed with Broderick on the pay issue, but added that people don’t leave Kriska because of pay.

“I don’t think money is the reason people come to us or leave us, but we are increasing pay to compete. What we don’t do traditionally, and I hope it happens in my lifetime, is that we move to an hourly-based pay where people get paid for every hour they work and if there time is wasted on the road in an accident or in traffic, they are still getting compensated. We don’t have that system right now, which I think is a flaw that exists.”

Angela Splinter, Manan Gupta, Guy Broderick and Mark Seymour took part in a panel discussion on the driver shortage.

Angela Splinter, Manan Gupta, Guy Broderick and Mark Seymour took part in a panel discussion on the driver shortage.

Still, Seymour said most people leave around issues of lifestyle. “A regular, over-the-road driver is gone for a long time and that presents many lifestyle issues – family issues.”

It brought up the issue of “total compensation,” something that Splinter said is starting to emerge.

“So it’s not just hourly wage, but looking at everything you offer your drivers — your benefit plans, vacation time, employee assistant program, RRSPs, pensions – putting that all together and presenting it to your drivers. That’s a trend we’re seeing. In trucking in particular, there are so many variables so it’s hard to determine what you are paying them, but we are seeing that trend to towards total compensation,” she reiterated.

The other problem, said Seymour, is the fact that “it takes a couple of days of training in the city to get your licence and you are no less accredited than somebody like Guy with three million kilometres of accident-free driving under his belt. That’s what’s broken about driving a truck. You need to work your way to the point you have designation,” he suggested. “Whether it’s Gold Seal or Super-elite or whatever it is – Guy deserves to be viewed and paid and respected more than somebody who got their licence yesterday.”

Elephants #3, 4, 5 and 6: Indo-Canadians, stereotypes, racism and speaking English

“We booked this event thinking we would get a lot of Indian participation,” McCarron explained, “but we didn’t realize it was Diwali.” Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated over a five-day period. “Today is like Christmas for Indo-Canadians,” said Gupta.

“That’s one of the big challenges we face: lack of recognition of things like statutory holidays or even just greeting them when they walk in the door in the morning,” commented McCarron.

“There is a missing link,” Gupta said. “I don’t know how many of the fleets that have Indo-Canadian employees extended Diwali greetings today – I didn’t see any major tweets or Facebook updates.”

Seymour said that this was the first year Kriska sent out a fleet-wide message in both English and Punjab.

“We had samosas at all of our terminals today. Little things make a huge difference. We’ve never done it before but we have a very large population of Indo-Canadians. We celebrate Christmas and have Christmas parties and all sorts of things; we need to be equally respectful of the Indo-Canadians.”

“We’ve hired 10 people this year,” explained Douglas Kimmerly, president and CEO of DSN Chemical Transportation, Mississauga, Ont., after the presentation. “Seven or eight of them are new Canadians. We’re not targeting a specific group; these just happened to be the best people to hire.”

Asked how his company has been weathering the cultural differences in light of his new hires, Kimmerly said that earlier in the day they had a meeting where people stood up and explained Diwali. However, “it’s not really a cultural challenge – it’s a chance for us to enrich our own culture.”

Stereotypes

“I hear things like ‘low rates, don’t follow the rules, bad equipment’. A lot of Canadian truckers would put a lot of blame for low rates on the Indian trucking community. Is there basis for that,” McCarron asked Gupta.

“There’s no basis for that,” Gupta responded. “You will find people of all backgrounds lowering their rates, running unsafe trucks on the road – it’s not only Indo-Canadians. Every community has some bad apples. Indo-Canadians are so large in numbers you will see more examples of those things — especially in the GTA and Peel Region – but it is not only them.”

Gupta added that culturally, Indo-Canadians are “very entrepreneurial and that is why they are making their mark in much more visible numbers. In the next five years, you will see most of them in decision making positions.”

Racism

“How much is racism involved in this,” asked McCarron, adding that he was “blown away” by a recent meeting with Sikh truckers who explained what they face on the road.

“It’s definitely a big obstacle,” Gupta acknowledged. “I believe the industry should be welcoming to everybody, but it’s also how the individual conducts themselves as well. Respect is a two-way street -you give respect, you get respect – and many times I’ve seen newcomers that don’t earn that respect. They feel that they are the kings of the road.”

The language barrier

As a driver-trainer, Broderick said that potential new hires have said to him “I don’t know how to describe that part in your language.”

That’s a big problem if they get stopped at inspection stations, he stressed.

“They can’t explain, ‘Yes, I did check my brakes, my fifth wheel, my landing gear, here is my dangerous goods paperwork, everything is all up to par.’ That is probably the biggest thing – the language barrier.”

Splinter said research shows that language is the number one barrier for foreign workers. “If they are coming into fleets, maybe take that initiative to give them that training,” she suggested.

Elephant #7: Women in trucking and learning about respect

Trucking HR Canada has been working with employers on recruitment and retention of women, explained Splinter. “We surveyed women working in the industry on barriers to entry. We have some rich data.”

The key data points? At the driver level, Splinter said women are concerned about safety issues: “danger on the road, not wanting to be alone in their truck at night at truck stops, bathroom and shower facilities that weren’t female-friendly,” Splinter listed off. “From other women at other levels, issues around compensation – that’s not new and probably keeping with what we’re seeing in other industries.”

Trucking HR is developing an “action plan,” Splinter said. One of the initiatives that is set to come out of the action plan is a national leadership summit “that will bring together not just women but men as well and look at some practical approaches.”

In the meantime, there are lessons to be learned. In what he apologized for being a “bold and uncensored example,” Seymour told the audience about a female employee that was denied the use of a customer’s washroom.

“We took the initiative to demark the customer and said if you aren’t going to let our drivers, men and women, use the facilities, we’re never coming back.”

As more women enter the industry, an evolution is taking place, Seymour explained. He pointed to how Kriska now changes the mattress in a truck every time a new driver takes it over.

“I think most guys wouldn’t have a problem sleeping in other guys’ mattresses. Women have a higher standard and higher expectations – and so they should. Every time we issue a truck to a new driver, we put a new mattress in it because that’s what our women drivers expect and deserve. But we’re not going to do it gender specific, we’re going to do it by and large. I think women are teaching us a lot about respect that we didn’t figure out on our own.”

 


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12 Comments » for Addressing the seven elephants in the driver shortage room
  1. Lawrence says:

    Another article about the same old thing, talk, talk, talk. Time to put up or shut up. Every fleet and every driver knows what is wrong with this industry. Quit using drivers as paid slaves to subsidize their own operation and their customers operations.

  2. Jerry Wright says:

    I have been driving professionally for many years and am looking forward to retirement. I am 61. There was a time when drivers respected each other and the general motoring public could depend on us for help if needed. The quality of modern day driver coming out of the GTA has absolutely destroyed the age old system of courteous safe driving e.g. flashing another truck in when passing, thanking a driver with his lights or, God forbid, the CB when he is flashed in etc. There was a time when I did not have to compete with drivers for merging space, turning space and so on. It was freely given by the other guy. Not so any more. These new drivers make my job much more dangerous and the friendliness, to a large degree, is gone. Also Mr. Gupta claims his sect did not contribute to the low rates we have today. Right. And I was born yesterday.

    • Bev Plummer says:

      I drove for many years starting back before power steering and showers in truck stops that weren’t in the men’s room, there were still truck drivers out there who were less then professional . We “old dogs” like to think we were all the cream of the crop, but there were some out there just as badly trained and as ignorant as we find on the road today, there’s just more trucks. Some companies tell their drivers not to blink another driver in because of the liability of being sued. Back when we started out hardly anyone was armed now almost everyone is if you run U.S. We used to stop and offer help but now with all the communication equipment available there is really no need. I don’t really think the industry has gotten worse it’s just different, I was one of a few women in a man’s world when I started out and I had to adapt, I think that’s what drivers need to do now. I know my life in a truck was away better after 35 years then it was when i started, better trucks no more running till you dropped, better communication systems, better facilities on the road, but that’s just my opinion. There were a few drivers asking me why I was out there taking a “man’s job ” when I started out but there were lot’s more who treated me like another driver. We never know every thing regardless of how long we are out there and I always offered help or asked for help most of the time it was given and received as one driver to another. Stay safe and happy .

  3. Steve Robertson says:

    was the rubber chicken dinner good after your elephant in the room hunt. Give us a brake same old story new panel no results. The trucking industry has always counted on all the free labour it has been and ways will be expected as ” part of your job” I don’t want to sound racist but I have been out here 45 years and I can remember manners clean rest areas not littered with trash and bio hazards . I can remember truck stops and cafes run by Canadians or Europeans that had pride in their facility and kept it in a clean and repaired state not the junk filled pothole ridden dirty places today run by non English speaking staff this industry is falling apart T the seams simply because of liberal attitudes towards our culture. I am sure if this industry would clean up its act pay and respect the drivers they have and not undermine them with foreign workers at cheaper pay there would not be any shortage. As for women in trucks that’s another story here in the great white north keep them on the pavement close to Walmart operating two back doors

    • Darren Burchill says:

      Steve I can see your point up until your last comment about women drivers. My friend I have worked with more than one female who was at least if not better than I. I also believe that the improvement in the major truckstops in the US over the years is because of the LADIES in trucks who won’t frequent the dives and trash pits we were used to. Thanks ladies I love getting a good nights sleep with out the whore and drug dealers knoking on the door every 5 minutes.

      • Bev Plummer says:

        Thank you Darren you are the type of driver who made it a pleasure to share the road with. Steve makes me think of all the drivers who still think women should be barefoot in the kitchen, I often wonder if it’s because he doesn’t want us to know that most times it’s not a really hard job. The first woman driver I met in the U.S was a flatbed hauler and she had been at it for years. I was raised in the north and there were women hauling logs and gravel long before I started . He should read up on some of the women drivers back in the 1920’s and the one who was picked as heavy hauler of the year from Florida , we’re not a new thing and we’re here to stay !

  4. john says:

    It would appear as though a very important Elephant was eloquently removed from that discussion; over time pay. Well done gentleman. Way to sweep an important, unaddressed component of driver’s pay under the rug yet again. Leaders lead with action, not with idled discussion.

  5. Wendy says:

    Jerry – You hit the nail dead on!
    These guys spend all this time trying to make it better for the Punjabs – WHERE are the perks for the white guy? Remember him? The guy that could speak English, read English and write English – the guys that kept this industry running for decades. McCarron was “blown away” by a recent meeting with Sikh truckers who explained what they face on the road. Have you talked to the old timers? How about what they face from the new Canadians???
    When are you going to have a discussion on how to keep the white guy in trucking? They are leaving in droves. Why is that?
    Hey Truck News – we are tired of hearing about the new Canadians. Time to start writing about the old Canadians who did an amazing job keeping this industry going – and they did it without EOBRs or strict HoS rules. Start doing something to make them happy!

  6. paul bauman says:

    So Mark Seymour has increased his drivers wages 3 times in the last 12 months.Wow look at me, look at me!!
    Whoopdee frickin doo!!You can increase wages as many times as you want but until they actually reach the level where they should be at this is just more window dressing.

  7. Bill G says:

    First of all, money is always the reason why a driver leaves. If you pay drivers $30/hour with overtime pay after 40hrs then you will have drivers that will never quit. That’s why people are willing to go work in Alberta to work 12 hrs per day and leave their families for months at a time. Why not set an example of how to fix the industry, stop talking about it and do it, pay drivers a good hourly wage and be an industry leader!

  8. iein 55378008 says:

    I will not make this about me said or he should! I am one of many thousand drivers of all back grounds with many different knowledge who we all count on everyday to move freight across the country or across town, but doing it safely and on time, being paid a fare price to do so.
    We as drivers have, good or bad, get paid the rate no matter the cost! Drivers are BOTTOM FEEDERS of this industry! But one truck or 2 trucks wont move with out one driver!
    What seems to be happing in the industry in general is shipping companies and trucking companies started this just in time fright thing….you all remember ?… moving warehouses on wheels, its cheaper…? Not it its not on time, if Honda shouts down a line, guys standing around at job sites, Food stores shelves empty.. this is a spin off of moving warehouses on wheels. Everyone from a Mechanic, Dispatcher, Driver, and of course HR and A CEO, feels the stresses of this!

    “JUST IN TIME FRIEGHT DOES NOT WORK ALL THE TIME”
    The biggest issues are all the issues of that time! tomorrow it will be EGR’s and wait time.

    I am sad to say I have been in the trucking industy since I was 17, was taught a lot by the owner about trucks and how they work! I have driven garbage trucks to live haul chicken truck, pony pups, did long haul over to the states, Backed a 41′ straight truck into a rat hole in china town, to being a formal Truck Driving Winner in 2013. I feel I have a good grasp of my skills, so does my company. I have little skill how to fix the issues we face in this industry today and for tomorrow. The people who have paid me over the years, have that skill. Its also “out of my pay scale” so I have been informed!

    Respect!!!
    Cost the less but also the most!! think how each and everyone of you all require it? Then give it the same way! That’s the first step!

  9. john says:

    The reason for Indo-Canadian drivers is not due to their skill in this trade, It is monetary based as Canadian drivers expect to be paid as well as other trades! Politics-Politics-Politics! Pay a driver by the hour like other trades and Canadians”will be interested in employment as a “PROFESSIONAL” line-drivers and also won’t have a challenge with the “ENGLISH” language! This conversation has been has existed for 30 years,we need action not more wasted space in Periodicals!

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