There are certainly several crucial speedbumps for the trucking industry as Canadian business and the backlogged supply chain are sounding the alarm: Canada must keep on truckin’!
While there are faulty assumptions that the recent North American supply chain crisis implicates trucking as a cause, the logistics reality is that delays, backlogs and unloading of shipped cargo are the culprits. Trucking is a well known and high-profile modality for moving merchandise and materials including backed-up supply chain cargo to its destinations.
The simplified and accurate trucking business bottom line causing a trucking crisis is that the trucking industry has lots of work, but not enough workers!
Trucking companies are confronting the urgent fact of Canadian trucking industry life that, for several years, there has not only been a festering driver shortage, the situation is now worse and critical. “The latest labour market research indicates that in the second quarter of 2021, there were over 18,000 driver vacancies,” explains the knowledgeable Matt Faure, president and CEO of the Calgary-based Trimac Transportation, one of the largest transportation service companies in North America.
“We saw a driver shortage surge in 2018, which levelled off in 2019. When the pandemic hit, a lot of businesses were negatively impacted and that trickled down to less trucking activity as well, so we needed fewer drivers. At first people thought this could solve the driver shortage issue. Then the economy kicked back up in to high gear quicker than most people predicted and many drivers who left the profession in the downturn are gone and have not returned.”
He notes that, because there isn’t just one cause for the shortage problem, there can’t be just one solution. But there is industry consensus. One key factor causing Canada’s driver shortage are demographics – age and gender.
“Compared to other industries, trucking has a higher average age. Thirty-one per cent of drivers are over 55 years old. The national average for all workers in all employment categories is 22 per cent over 55,” he says. “The trucking sector was already having a hard time attracting the next generation of drivers at a pace that could keep up with the number of people retiring, and then the pandemic hit.”
Chris Nash, the plugged-in president of the province-wide, not-for-profit Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) agrees that the trucking industry is struggling to attract both young drivers as well as women drivers. “The average age of a driver is 46 years old in Canada (Conference Board of Canada). The employers’ cost to onboard drivers can on average cost $10,000.
“Drivers are leaving for retirement or for other opportunities,” he says, “and it can be difficult attracting new people, particularly young people, to the industry. With the high cost of insurance, it’s difficult to bring young people (25 and under) into the industry.”
Trimac’s Matt Fauer emphasizes that the generation gap plaguing the trucking industry is aggravated by an occupational Cath-22. “Attracting new, young drivers is difficult enough but it’s compounded by the requirement to be 21 years old to get a commercial driver’s license.” He explains that most major trucking firms require experience but, as with many other employers, getting experience takes time. “By then, many find a trade or other profession to go into and they are set on a different career path. It’s hard to change professions once somebody starts earning a stable living doing something else.”
On the Calgary front line, Hamza Alaaridhy at Calgary’s Derek Brown’s Academy of Driving, considered southern Alberta’s leader in driver education, has tremendous expertise about all aspects of the trucking industry, as well as unique empathy and people skills to understand the wants, needs and expectations of professional drivers. “The biggest issue today is that new drivers can’t find jobs, since they do not have experience. And they don’t have experience, because they can’t find a job!
“Some of the key expectations of today’s drivers are professionalism, better wages, a balanced work and home time and having clean reliable equipment. Another vital aspect is having more companies offering a training program for new drivers.”
Faure points out that, accurate or misleading, the misunderstood perception of truck drivers – like the stereotypical dilemma in how-you-gonna-keep-‘em-down-on-the-farm agriculture – is an essential factor of the truck driver shortage. “The profession doesn’t seem have the respect it once had, when it was glamorized in TV shows and movies. Younger generations are finding other trades or the technology industry easier to get in to or more appealing.”
The AMTA’s Chris Nash emphasizes the trucking industry’s difficulty attracting women. “In Canada, only three per cent of commercial drivers are women. In the United States that number is 10 per cent, an increase of 2.2 per cent compared to just three years ago. For women drivers especially, COVID affected labour in industry.
“Trucking HR (the influential non-profit organization advancing Canadian HR solutions for the trucking and logistics workforce) reported that women accounted for only 3.7 per cent of driver employment in the first half of 2020, but 15.9 per cent of the decline of driver employment in the second quarter of 2020. The numbers showed that the labour force for female truck drivers had recovered to pre-pandemic levels by June 2021.”
Faure urges that the industry needs to continue encouraging young people and women to enter the profession. “We can do that by innovating our operations and equipment to attract a younger audience that is used to – and expects – high tech in their lives. It may be a cliché but the thinking used to be that women do not enter the profession as they do not want to be away from home too long. The research suggests that being away from home is actually more important to men than women. Women are more concerned about being safe, especially when they are driving alone.
“It’s why the industry must continue to invest in safety and also get creative with our customers to dispatch differently to have everyone home much more often. And it would be extremely important if the federal government would recognize truck drivers as a professional trade. They currently do not,” he notes. “It not only continues to tarnish the reputation of the hard working, safe, diligent men and women in this industry, who see themselves as not just drivers but as professionals.”
“The driving pool is shrinking,” Nash says with urgency. “The aging work force is compounded by more people – young, old and underrepresented – exiting the profession and it’s why we’re seeing the driver shortage continue to grow. At the same time, the problem is exacerbated even more by the growing demand for goods to be transported.
“As the economic recovery continues, the demand for transportation will grow and the supply chain capacity diminishes without drivers.”
Trucking industry experts are concerned that it is crunch time. An increasing number of drivers are entering the age of retirement and, they urge that it’s up to the trucking industry to showcase the vast number of career opportunities and opportunities for growth in the industry, including those behind the wheel.
“Commercial transportation has lived with a negative stereotype, and AMTA and industry has been working to highlight just how rewarding a career in transportation can be. Carriers are now including competitive salaries and benefit packages, supporting flexible schedules, and ensuring that the mental health and wellness of employees is at the forefront. Tech disruption such as ELDs and newer equipment are increasing driver comfort, safety, and the ability for a good work/life balance.”