Concrete demand meets a driver shortage

by John G. Smith

concrete pumper with outriggers deployed
Attendees file into the Canadian Concrete Expo, where concrete pumpers were widely on display (Photo: John G. Smith)

TORONTO, Ont. – Look no further than the equipment rolling around Toronto for proof of an active construction sector. Bart Kanters just wishes there were more truck drivers to place behind the wheel.

The president of the Ready Mixed Concrete Association of Ontario, also branded as Concrete Ontario, says surveyed members were looking for 300-400 new drivers last year, but were only able to attract half that number.

The group’s 90 members operate 270 concrete plants across the province, served by about 3,500 ready-mix trucks.

“They’re great-paying jobs that are in that $22-30-per-hour range, great benefits. But trying to find drivers for the industry is one of our biggest challenges — and it’s really what’s holding us back,” he said during an interview at the Canadian Concrete Expo, held this week in Mississauga, Ont. “We have members that have vehicles and equipment that are parked because they can’t find enough drivers to staff their needs.”

Bart Kanters, Concrete Ontario
“We have members that have vehicles and equipment that are parked because they can’t find enough drivers to staff their needs,” says Bart Kanters of Concrete Ontario.

To compound issues, operations with fewer than 50 trucks are finding it more difficult to secure insurance for new drivers.

“We need a minimum of three years driving experience. We need a minimum age of 25. We need a pristine driving record. We need a CVOR [safety rating] that is spotless,” Kanters says, referring to the requirements faced by companies that are not self-insured.

Trained, safety-conscious drivers are clearly the key to success. Once water and cement are combined, it needs to reach a job site, undergo testing, and be unloaded within two hours. Time and technique are of the essence.

Growing use of concrete pumpers

The equipment itself is also becoming more technically demanding, particularly as concrete businesses gradually shift toward the use of concrete pumpers that deliver their loads through massive booms.

“A concrete pump is labor savings — and unemployment is at an all-time low, so it’s hard to get people,” said Eric Duiker of CanCrete Service, a supplier of concrete pumpers. “You can take one concrete pump and replace 10 guys on wheelbarrows … On high rises, you’re not using your tower crane to place concrete. You’re using it to place steel and decking, to move form work around, so you can pump concrete while you’re forming concrete.”

But a new generation of equipment requires a higher level of skill.

The truck operators don’t require any specific training in Canada, beyond an AZ licence, but the B.C. Construction Safety Alliance unveiled a voluntary certification program last fall.

“This is one of the most important parts of building construction, and one of the most dangerous,” executive director Mike McKenna said at the time. “While people operating such heavy equipment must be trained to do this work, surprisingly no formal programs are in place anywhere in North America to validly certify their knowledge or on-site performance capabilities.”

Evolving concrete pumpers

Still, the equipment is evolving in the name of driver comfort and safety alike.

Last year, CanCrete shipped more concrete pumpers with conventional cabs rather than cabovers. “It used to be all about the space and saving the length of the cab, but now it’s also about operator comfort,” Duiker said.

It was the first time conventional cabs accounted for more than half of the company’s sales.

More safety interlocks are also being incorporated. If a boom is out of its cradle and someone attempts to activate the outriggers, for example, a horn must blow. Warnings sound in the cab if the boom is not in place and a driver attempts to shift out of the PTO mode.

Quebec takes the extra step of mandating powerline detection systems that will shut down a boom if it enters a powerline’s magnetic field.

Duiker also says the driver shortage is demanding greater reliability in the systems.

“Ten to 15 years ago, you had to be half a mechanic and 100% an operator to make a pump work,” he said.

Eric Duiker, CanCrete
Concrete pumpers are a long-term investment, says Eric Duiker of CanCrete.

A long-term investment

No matter who is at the controls today, it will also be a long-term investment.

“The concrete pumping industry is a real capital-intensive business. You buy a truck you pay a half million dollars for it. You’ve got five to six years to pay for it, except it really takes you about 10 years to earn enough money to justify what your payments were,” Duiker said, referring to units that can cost anywhere from US $400,000 to $1.25 million.

“You have to have cash going into it — and over a 10-year cycle there’s always a recession. So it’s like, ‘I’m going to make this big investment that’s going to pay over 10 years, and at some point I’m not going to have enough work for it.’

“You have to be in it for the long haul,” he said, “because if you’re in it for the short term to make money in pumping, it won’t pan out.”

Click here to learn more about concrete pumpers

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.


  • You lack driver interest due to the low salary you’re offering . It’s a specialized industry catering to construction . It’s not just about driving , there’s labour involved and it’s messy.

    Increase your hourly wage to in between $40 & $45 an hour and they’ll come .

    $22 to $30 an hour is roughly the range a driver can earn driving a dry box long haul , without “physical” labour involved in a non specialized industry ! Car haulers earn more in their specialized industry than what you’re offering in yours !

    Best of luck !

  • The funny thing about this is a lot of companies have no idea what attracts drivers. They buy and outfit fancy new trucks but pay the drivers a garbage wage and treat them like shit! Give me a decent truck, $30/hour and some respect and I’ll work for you. I have over 40 years experience on just about any that moves. I saw an ad the other day. AZ driver. Must have clean record and know how to use a truck mounted crane. $16/hour! They just don’t get it!

    • Your absolutely Correct on this one just look around and take notice who is the majority of drivers in this country think about it they all take these low paying jobs because they can .

    • If you want a physical trucking gig hydrovaccing is like $27/h+ benefits. They’re hiring like mad, if I felt like working outside the cab id do that instead.

    • I did construction 4 years and three years ago was $26.50 plus benefits or $30.00 per hour today plus overtime if I was able to would still be doing that work Better money than over the road. The better companies have no shortage at $29.00 to $30.50 per hour plus medical

  • The problem is wages and the fact in a union environment a newbie might spend most of the winter looking out the living room window not a windshield. A driver with with experience ( and a family) can’t afford to wait for a call to go to work he needs to working every day

  • O.M.G. “WAGES” equal to other Trades – This conversation going for 50 or more years. Corporate Please Listen ??

  • These guys are not ready to pay for the experience and for the safety they want and a clean ABSTRACT TO BUT ?. What they are paying for is they want Coconuts by Paying in PEANUTS

  • Yeah they don’t make those jobs attractive enough for truckers like myself to drive pump.

    Steadier easier work driving a dump triaxle, smaller company, better relationship with the employer.

    $25/h here, would need $30-35/h with full time hours year long to consider making the switch.

    As enrollments fall for new licenses due to the cost in Ontario I greatly look forward to a shortage of drivers.

  • I never see these types of jobs on indeed (or very rarely). Some shortage of you’re not putting jobs out on the biggest job banks how will people know?

  • Nobody wants to be around silica, 10sf dust and exhaust fumes for 10 to 12 hours a day for those wages. Let’s get real now.

  • Operating such equipment for $22-30/hour in Ontario is unacceptable when I can operate, a shovel for $18+/h without any training and responsibility.
    AZ driving course cost around $10,000 in GTA and you can’t get financial government assistance you need to be at least 21 for insurance company to insure you.
    Teens finish high school at 18 and by 21 they’ll all ready find other jobs. So you figure it out

  • Yes exactly what Noble1 said – until wages are raised to *start* around $35 to 40 per hour, why even bother when you can make the same hauling freight without the labour and hassle? The owners are usually greedy milking their contracts for max profit and while profit is a good thing, obviously they are not hurting enough to pay higher wages, so screw ’em, let their equipment be underutilized! Yeah, good luck with *that* (owners)!!

  • I am 76 years old and retired when I was 65 and the same day I retired I gave up my ACZ license and went back to a G license because I was sick and tired of all the bullshit that you had to put up with in companies and other drivers on the road. Wages what wages??

  • Driver shortage, you say?

    Hmm ….. I wonder why?

    I would think that many, many drivers would want to:

    1) work 12-13 hours every day

    2) work every Saturday

    3) drive a rusty ’89 Mack

    4) randomly piss into a bottle

    5) be abused daily by management

    No, thank you.