Canada truck firms looking for drivers, too

If misery loves company, then U.S. carriers grappling with driver shortages can take comfort that their Canada counterparts are plagued by the same malady. The issue is so acute that about a year ago the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) published a Blue Ribbon Task Force report on the subject and produced a separate website to keep carriers and others updated on the topic.

Bottom line: A 33,000 driver shortage by 2020.

The report highlighted core values that could help alleviate the driver shortage. These included:

  • Truck drivers should be paid for all the work that they do and earn enough to cover all reasonable out-of-pocket expenses as well as have an improved ability to predict what their weekly pay is going to be; compensation packages need to be competitive and more transparent
  • Drivers’ time at work should not be wasted — at shipper/consignee premises, waiting for their trucks in the shop, or waiting for a response to a question of their carrier
  • Driver wellness should be a top priority for employers
  • A minimum standard of entry level, apprenticeship or apprenticeship-like truck driver training should be mandatory
  • Truck driving should be considered a skilled trade and be recognized as such by the various levels and branches of government, standards councils

CTA members are under no obligation to implement any of these core values, according to Marco Beghetto, vice president of communications & new media, for CTA.

“Some members of the task force are implementing the core values but not all of them are doing it or at the same time. It depends upon their lanes, their markets,” he said.

However, one aspect of the solution is paramount, said Beghetto.

“We have to look to carriers for solutions, not government. We’re the ones who hire and fire drivers and we’re the ones who pick our customers, too. The Task Force made it clear that the buck stops here. The industry must pull up its socks and take a closer look at why it's difficult to hire new drivers.”

Mark Seymour, president of Kriska Transportation in Prescott, Ontario, who chaired the Blue Ribbon Task Force, echoed that belief.

“CTA’s goal is to address the issue rather than have regulators do it for them…It’s up to each company whether to live and breathe some or all of the core values,” he said.

Recently, some observers have suggested that the answer to driver shortages amounts to an easy fix: supply and demand. Simply by paying drivers more money, the industry will attract many more applicants and carriers will be able to choose from the best of the best.

It’s not that simple, according to Seymour.

“Nobody can afford to go against market principles to fix the driver shortage. Carriers would go out of business. It’s a combination of things that will fix the [driver shortage] issue. For example, lifestyle is a big item, and we could put in relay points to get drivers home, but it would add a tremendous amount of cost to our system. We must balance what we can do and what it costs,” he pointed out.

Seymour said that his company has tried many ways to reduce driver turnover. One successful program is truck sharing, which he notes is relatively new in Canada.

“Two or three people share two or three trucks,” he explained. “They’re out for two to three days, then home for two to three days. It’s more than part-time but less than full-time, and gives drivers more predictability.”

The company also started a wellness program.

Carriers admit that they see a chicken-and-egg dilemma. They want drivers to be considered skilled workers and pay them accordingly, but that’s difficult if the occupation isn’t considered professional or skilled by the government or public at large.            

“Driving is not considered a skilled occupation; it’s not certified as such in Canada,” Beghetto said. “Some sort of mandatory level of driver training would go a long way to attracting a higher level of driver. If they were certified like plumbers or electricians, then higher compensation would come along.”

Seymour looks overseas for inspiration on the professional angle.

“The occupation of drivers in Western Europe is that of a professional,” he said. “They behave like professionals, they’re paid like professionals. They drive in an orderly fashion in the right-hand lane with speed limiters. They dress as professionals and are treated that way. That’s a page we can steal from them.”

“Lots of discipline [in trucking driving] needs to be brought in and enforced,” Seymour added. “If we do that we will attract professionals and not people who want to act in the old Smokey and the Bandit-type way.”

Almost everyone agrees that the answer to driver shortages is not one or two major changes but incremental forward steps.

“It’s an evolution. There’s no finish line,” said Seymour. “We’d really like to come up with a unique idea, a game-changer, but nobody’s been able to do that. We’ll have to keep chipping away at it.”

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