The Quarter-Century Club

Matt Emes:

Meet Sergio, Matt, and Steve. They’re 25 and they love driving truck. The question is, are there more where they came from?

For Steve Andrusyshyn, it was either hockey or trucking. The 25-year-old Calgarian had his sights on the NHL for a while… but in the end, trucking won out. He’s been hauling aggregate for three years now, learning the ropes from his owner-operator father, Ken. And he plans to make a go of it in the family trucking business, Nordine Enterprises.

“I’m looking forward to a full career at this,” he says. “I’m up for the challenge and I’ll be in it for the long haul.”

In a world rocked by economic uncertainty, Andrusyshyn believes trucking is a great career option if you’re willing to work hard.
“For a young person just getting started, the safe route is to go work for someone and get some experience under your belt,” he says. “You’ll succeed if you keep at it and learn as you go.”

Matt Emes of Colborne, ON., who turns 25 later this year, shares the same kind of enthusiasm for trucking. He joined Prescott, ON.-based Kriska, shortly after being laid off from a manufacturing job. And to hear him tell it, that was one of the best things that could have happened.

“It turns out I love driving a truck,” he says. “When I was younger, I swore I’d never be one of these guys who lives on the road. But it’s kind of addictive. I love it.”

The Holy Grail of Recruitment

Guys like this are the holy grail of recruitment — young people with energy and enthusiasm for the job. Unfortunately, it’s getting tough to find drivers like them. For a number of reasons, fleets are turning instead to other demographic groups like midlife career-changers and new Canadians.

Kriska recruiting manager Caroline Blais says most new hires these days tend to be second- or third-career people, and they’re more likely to be in their 40s or 50s, than their 20s.

“Young drivers are a tough group to work with because most companies can’t hire someone who’s under 21,” she says. “Even if they want to be a driver when they come out of high school, no one can hire them at that age, so they’re going to establish themselves in some other industry first. And by the time they turn 21, they’re oriented in another direction. So we often lose them.”

Ironically, second- or third-career applicants often say trucking was something they’d wanted to do when they were younger but a career in trucking didn’t make sense for them at the time.

“Now they’re older, more established, and more financially secure,” says Blais. “And they have more freedom so they can finally get into this career.”

Losing young drivers, however, also means losing a fresh ­perspective on things, and some healthy push-back.

“They question things, and they challenge you a little more to explain why things are done a certain way. It’s a good thing,” she says. “They tend to be more technologically savvy and they’re open to changes, and trying new things. They’re not encumbered by past experiences, because they don’t have past experiences.”

Blais says no forward-thinking company that wants to maintain a strong talent pool can afford to ignore young drivers entirely. But she warns that it does require extra effort and patience.

“We do a lot of work with entry-level drivers,” she says. “We have a very comprehensive training program. The people that are coming out of our training program, though they may be lacking in experience, are really quite knowledgeable.”

On occasion, Kriska will hire someone who is not yet old enough to operate a commercial vehicle in the U.S. and keep them on domestic runs until they’re old enough to run south of the border.

Jim Mickey, co-owner and president of administration at Surrey, B.C.-based Coastal Pacific Xpress Inc. (CPx), says young people used to be a staple source of drivers for the trucking industry… but the world has changed.

Gun-shy Insurance Companies

He points out that there are fewer young people coming into industry from a farming background where they had basic mechanical skills and, more often than not, experience driving heavy equipment. At the same time, the insurance industry has become gun-shy about letting young drivers haul cargo in expensive trucks on congested roads.

“So not only do you not have the right kind of young people showing up to apply for a job,” says Mickey, “even if you did, most carriers wouldn’t hire them. They’d rather have a 30-year-old with an existing track record. So what you end up with is fewer young drivers.”
He’s also a noticed a different attitude from the under-30 set.

“The young guy working as a driver 25 years ago was doing it for the lifestyle. They wanted more trips, not fewer. They didn’t care about weekends off. Their happiest moment was when they left town on a trip. Today, young people are reluctant to leave town or to work hard, or be inconvenienced.”

Mickey says CPx used to work with young people, matching them up with seasoned professionals who could teach basic employment values.

“They taught them to show up on time, take care of the ­customer, be honest with dispatch, be courteous on the road, be proactive and responsibility,” he says.

But the program, which he describes as one of the most ­comprehensive in the industry, ultimately fell flat. He says the results didn’t justify the budget.

CPx doesn’t seek out young people anymore. It has started ­concentrating on finding new Canadians who are easier to insure, easier to train, generally more appreciative of a job, and more ­willing to put in the hard work that drives success.

By that measure, Sergio Jaramillo of London, ON., who turns 25 later this year, might be the best of both worlds. He’s an enthusiastic young person who is also a new immigrant to Canada.

He arrived from Colombia four years ago and went through a number of jobs, from pumping gas to waiting tables to carpet cleaning before taking a commercial driver’s course and joining Kriska.

“Trucking is a great career for me,” he says. “I love it. I like to travel. I like to meet people. The money is good. The company treats me good. Yes, there is some unpleasant stuff that you have to deal with, but that is the same in any job.”

And he’s not short on ambition. Ultimately he’d like to own his own truck.

“Some people who have been in the industry for a long time are more concerned about the money than about making the most of the job,” he says. “It’s all about the money for them. And, I don’t know, maybe I will be the same way in a few years, but I think young people are more concerned about having a good time while they work. That’s what I try to do.”

Emes has a similar philosophy. He rarely takes all the time off that’s coming to him. He’d prefer to get back in the cab and hit the road.

“Some of the old guys out there have been doing this so long, they’re ready to walk off. They just don’t have the ­motivation anymore. They don’t work long hours anymore. They don’t put in a lot of extra effort. They don’t want to hustle. They’re happy to run 370 miles a day. For me, 370 miles is a really bad day. Give me 500 miles plus and I’m thrilled,” he says. A pause.

“Now, ask me in 30 or 40 years and I might have a ­different answer!”


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