Driver hiring picks up again after pandemic pause

by Abdul Latheef

TORONTO, Ont. — As the Canadian economy crawls back from Covid-19, the trucking industry is bracing for a new battle over an old problem – the driver shortage.

In July, Trucking HR Canada released a study on the impact of the pandemic on the industry, which showed a significant contraction. It found that drivers accounted for 34,700 job losses, or roughly one in two jobs, in the first two quarters of 2020.

The start of the third quarter, however, was a different story with most of Canada entering Stage 3 of reopening, and fleets resuming hiring amid a surge in demand for freight across North America.

Robsan Transportation
Robsan Transportation says it is finding it difficult to hire drivers. (Photo: Robsan)

Hard to find drivers

“I’m finding it difficult to hire,” said Patricia Whitesell, vice-president at Robsan Transportation, a small fleet based in Hamilton, Ont.

“The (Covid-19) situation in the States is so bad that people with the qualifications that we require don’t want to go to there. They want to work in Canada only,” Whitesell said of Robsan’s predicament.

Even before the pandemic, the company had problem finding drivers as it has set a high hiring standard.

That is because it works in the nuclear industry, transporting used material such as clothing, pumps and motors to a decontamination center in the U.S. for recycling.

“I really think that the pandemic has made the situation in hiring worse than it was before,” Whitesell said.

Robsan is not the only company searching for cross-border drivers. Jobs advertised by multiple carriers on online sites such as Indeed offer salaries ranging from $70,000 to $95,000 for drivers with as little as one year’s cross-border experience, indicating how hot that segment has become.

Andy Kahlon, president, Daytona Freight Systems. (Photo: Abdul Latheef)

U.S. visa problem

Availability has also been affected by a U.S. decision in March to stop issuing visas to drivers employed in Canada on work permit. Many carriers rely on temporary workers including international students to fill vacancies.

The visa process has since resumed, but there is a big backlog of applicants, said Andy Kahlon, president of Daytona Freight Systems, a medium-sized carrier based in Caledon, Ont.

“Some of our drivers have received visa appointments for December or January,” he said.

Daytona, with a branch in Dartmouth, N.S., and a subsidiary in the U.S., has been aggressively hiring.

In its latest bid to attract drivers, the company is making an unusual offer to new hires – interest-free loans of up to $20,000 toward down payment of a home in Nova Scotia where the demand for drivers remains high.

That province has been recruiting drivers through its Nominee Program, but Kahlon said many truckers leave for the Greater Toronto Area once they get their permanent residency permits.

“The companies there are struggling to keep the drivers because most of them have relatives settled in the GTA,” he said.

Daytona’s incentive is aimed at those drivers, and the company wants to take them back to Nova Scotia, where it recently acquired R3N Freightlines, a small business with 18 trucks.

Kahlon said dozens of people have expressed interest in the program.

Tracy Clark, director of driver recruitment and retention at Bison Transport, with a group of new hires at an orientation class in Calgary, Alta., last week. (Photo: Fred Theaker / Bison)

Keeping drivers

One company that is sticking to the traditional method of hiring is Bison Transport, which employs some 3,000 people.

“We haven’t needed to offer any unusual incentives,” said Tracy Clark, director of driver recruitment and retention at Bison.

“What is most important to help us stand out is, due to our strong customer base, we have been able to keep our drivers moving and hauling freight, which is what they want to do ultimately,” she said in an interview from Calgary, Alta.

In the early days of the pandemic, Clark said, there had been an increase in drivers looking for work, but the majority of applicants wanted to run within Canada or even stay locally.

She said Bison’s “unparalleled commitment to safety” is helping it attract qualified drivers.

Currently, the company is actively recruiting cross-borders drivers, as well as owner-operators in Eastern Canada because of growing business there.

“We need to add more tractors to our fleet in order to carry all the new freight,” Clark said.

Bison strictly follows all the health and safety protocols including a Covid-19 pre-screening in hiring new drivers to make sure there are no risks.

The company has also been holding virtual orientation classes for the new recruits.

“They have been working out really well, and it causes us to wonder why didn’t we do this before,” Clark quipped.

Work environment

CarriersEdge CEO Jane Jazrawy, who oversees the Best Fleets to Drive For program, believes what the drivers need most is a good work environment.

Jane Jazrawy, CEO, CarriersEdge. (Photo: CarriersEdge)

“One of the things I think people miss about recruiting strategies is that you can have fantastic ads and a great hiring bonus, but at the end of the day, when people come to work for you, your company’s environment has to be one where they want to stay,” she said.

Jazrawy said recruiting can’t just be about getting people in the door.

“What we find in Best Fleets is that the companies who are putting a lot of effort into engaging their existing drivers and support staff find out what makes people want to stay. Then they add those strategies into how they recruit.”

Jazrawy said having own driving school is a good strategy.

Many companies find the drivers they train from the start have lower turnover once they start working as a full-time professional driver, she said.

Have your say

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  • If I was offered a work permit and LMIA that would allow me to travel to Canada and settle down, I wouldn’t mind signing a contract in Nova Scotia for 5 years

  • Any truck drivers who cross the border should have to work in Canada only for at least one year. All truck drivers who cross the border and average 50 hours per week should be making 1500 per week on payroll in order to afford to buy a appartment and support a family in Ontario Canada or some parts of B C . Many U S companies feel that some Trucking companies in Canada have a unfair advantage with cheaper offshore truck drivers hauling international freight.

  • The driver shortage is a myth. If there was a real shortage the shelves @ Walmart and Home Hardware would be MT. Pay more than your competitors, offer better benefits than your competitors, buy premium trucks as opposed to your competitors. You as a fleet can afford ALL of this because if there’s a driver shortage, there’s a truck shortage and rates are through the roof!

    • There is a shortage of truck drivers!!! Especially up north Ontario where they can’t keep up with stocking their shelves with items. If you were a truck driver you would know this. What you don’t see is all the freight and goods that are left behind. Before you comment on a news item, know your facts!!

      • I know of many truck drivers doing security work at homeless shelters or other places at $25. 00 per hour plus 12 hours per week overtime on average. Many truck drivers would be happy to take those jobs at $1500 or more per week 5195239586. On a 6 day week

  • There’s no shortage of truck drivers . It’s just propaganda to somehow get people to belive that truckers are in demand. In reality driver are dime a dozen..

  • It’s sad to know that the state trucking company would pay for our license and let us work as non experience driver on a contract but here in Canada no company I have caught up on who’s willing to do so in Canada, I paid for my dz and need help with az

  • Its hard to go on the road for 50 cents on a mile, this HAS to change this is the same rate off pay for the last 20 years, and a company cant tell me that they are not charging more but the pay for the driver still is the same

  • Most of trucking companies, no matter big or small, break Labour Code, no OT, no Holiday Pay and force driver to contribute their time for free, no pay for waiting, no pay for first pickup & drop, no pay for fuel tank, no pay for inspection……!
    A long haul driver works 12-14 hours a day, get 550 miles a day, .50 cents per mile, $275 a day, 24/7 with truck. More importantly, no one respects a trucker, a young high school graduate can easily make more than a trucker as a dispatcher which works only 8hours a day. Trucking is a industry which need more and more slaves. LoL, unfortunately, I am the one of them, and couldn’t find a master who is not too bad.:(

    • Dear Poor Trucker,
      If a company is breaking any labour laws take them up on it.
      If you are an employee all employment laws apply to you. You should get paid for statutory holidays, vacation pay, etc,
      Now about slave, try getting a skilled trade job. Examples are tool and die maker, machinist, plumber, electrician, diesel mechanic, etc. These are SKILLED jobs, unlike transport driver is known as semi-skilled and pays accordingly. Good luck and safe driving.

      • I agree truck drivers are not a skilled trade but semi skilled trade . As a semi skilled trade truck drivers should be limited t working 8 months of the year for foreign truck drivers from April to Dec. Those companies can only use them in Canada only for limited agriculture and construction projects . There is a surplus of construction workers with A Z permits for the winter months. All companies be limited to 2 truck drivers and 2 mechanics and 2 other trades person per company and put $3.00 per hour into a fund to train young people from the province these people are going to be working in plus a one dollar per hour for medical care and housing for people who got hurt or sick such as truck drivers in Ontario homeless shelter system.

  • I wish the article writers and others would learn the difference between a salary and a wage, very, very few drivers receive a salary

  • $70,000 a year sounds like great money until you find out how much time you have to trade for it. Not to mention the cost of living on the road. That $70K turns into peanuts pretty quickly.

  • Where is this shortage i keep hearing about? Im $12k in the hole for melt training and literally no one is hiring. One place invited me to apply to their new driver training program. but its a 2 year commitment with nothing guaranteed in return other than being charged the training if you leave early. If you want a 2 year contract you’re going to have to start by paying off the loans I had to take out just to get my AZ in the first place.

    Like really? A 2 year contract after I take on all the financial burden of getting an AZ license? Get lost!