MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Fleet executives from Canada’s most-recognized trucking companies gathered together on a panel titled “How to attract and retain professional drivers” at the first annual Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) conference on Feb. 24 at the Sandman Signature Mississauga Hotel.
The panel included Garth Pitzel, director of safety and driver development at Bison Transport, Alex MacKinnon, COO of MacKinnon Transport, Caroline Blais, recruiting manager at Kriska and Geoff Topping, director of recruiting and retention at Challenger Motor Freight.
To kick off the discussion, each panelist was asked to describe what they think the root cause of the driver shortage is.
Topping of Challenger said that the perception of trucking to the general public is ultimately to blame.
“I believe it’s the perception of the profession,” he said. “I think (the driving profession) unfortunately been watered-down. People think of (driving) as a career of last resort. They don’t think of it as a real profession and a real job and it truly is. It is a job where someone can make a good living and look after their family. And be proud of what they’re doing. And as an industry we need to push and continue to raise the awareness of that and raise the profession back to what it used to be.”
Topping added that he thinks the industry is missing the mark with the younger generation because of the age limit set on cross-border drivers.
“We lose an opportunity there to recruit those young people,” he said. “Because by the time they’re 21 they’ve already had a pathway planned for themselves and they’re making regular money and they don’t want to start over.”
Blais of Kriska agreed with Topping, but added that she thinks the industry has dug itself into a hole because of the way truck driving is perceived and how it haven’t corrected that perception yet.
“In North America, every industry is struggling to find people,” she said. “I know sometimes we may have tunnel vision and think it’s just us, but it’s not. There’s been so much press over the years about (the industry) wanting more drivers and it being a second career, that I think we’ve created a culture for our industry inadvertently that suggests that we are so desperate that we will take anybody. It’s hard to correct that perception and it’s hard for people outside the industry to understand that people in trucking in driving and non-driving roles are educated and intelligent. In our fleet, we have a number of drivers that have university educations. I think people would be surprised to know that and we should be getting more of that out there to attract more of the right people that we want to have.”
Pitzel of Bison said that he thinks the key to solving the driver shortage is to change the driving culture completely, and getting long haul drivers back home in a timely fashion.
“I think as an industry we need to make the working conditions better. Today, asking somebody to work 2-3 weeks in a row on the road is not okay,” he said. “And I think we need to be up front with them about wages because they want to know what they’re making and how much they are taking home to their families every week.”
Of course, the driver shortage has significantly altered the industry, but for big businesses that were represented in the panel, it’s mostly affected recruitment strategies.
Topping said that Challenger has been trying a multitude of different ways to find new drivers, like putting recruiters both out on the road and having recruiters in the office and sending people to schools to get students educated on the various careers in trucking. But he stressed that the biggest change the company has made since the shortage has been working with those who are applying to and are interested in Challenger.
“Some people want to be out on the road for weeks at a time and others don’t,” he said. “So we try to work with them to see what works for them so we can keep them on board.”
Blais said that Kriska’s recruitment has evolved and has put more focus on working with entry-level drivers.
“At Kriska, we have a philosophy that it’s easier for us to grow a Kriska quality driver from scratch than it is to try to rehabilitate an experienced driver with issues,” she said. “We believe that the company that has the best drivers, not necessarily the most experienced drivers, but the best drivers will win.”
MacKinnon said that for his business, driver referrals are the best way to combat the shortage.
“Today we put a lot of weight on our referral bonus,” he said. “By far, our best recruiters are our drivers. When one of our drivers tells another driver how awesome it is to work at MacKinnon Transport, it’s a little more proactive than when I tell a driver how great it is to work at MacKinnon. We used to do sign-on bonus, and we still have a small sign-on bonus….but we found that when we put a lot of weight on the sign-on bonus, a lot of those individuals jumped at the next sign-on bonus, which was frustrating. So we use our current fleet to help promote MacKinnon.”
All panelists agreed that carriers need to work alongside reputable training schools to fight the shortage together.
“We need to work with the schools and we do work with the schools to find out and make sure the student is the right student and to make sure they are prepared for the lifestyle they get when they become a driver,” Topping said. “Students need to know they aren’t going to be home as often as they used to at a previous job. They need to know the psychology of the job.”
MacKinnon said what he wants and what he believes would benefit carriers in the long run would be open communication with carriers and schools.
“We want to know from the schools where (the students’) attitude was during the training,” he said. “We want to know things like did they participate in class? Are they safety-minded? We don’t just want to know the driving skills only.”