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Canadian task force tackles driver shortage

April 13, 2012

A landmark report by the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) is being called by leaders of the group the most comprehensive and honest attempt to tackle the burning questions surrounding the shortage of qualified truck drivers, which CTA said is Canadian motor carriers’ biggest operational concern.

While the obvious focus of the report is the driver turnover and shortage situation in Canada, many of the issues there obviously parallel those of trucking companies in the U.S.

(Is the U.S. trucking industry doing everything it can improve driver turnover?)

While the report highlights the usual “systemic issues” behind the shortage — such as driver demographics, public perceptions of the occupation, an unpopular lifestyle, not being deemed a skilled occupation and regulations — it also holds up a mirror to the industry and attempts to incite a national dialogue within the transportation community, according to CTA’s board of directors, which endorsed the report.

The report was generated by the CTA Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage — a group established in 2011 to provide leadership on what many carriers say is the industry’s greatest long-term challenge but where little consensus has emerged in the past in terms of finding solutions to the problem.

The report purposefully does not shy away from discussing some of the most contentious issues linked to the driver shortage, including compensation (which the report said “is inescapably the overriding issue” that needs to be resolved) and the need for organized immigration strategies.

The report points to the “traditional ‘piece work’ pay system” as one of the key reasons for the driver shortage, explaining that it “places the burden of inefficiencies of the freight system created by others onto the backs of drivers” and states that compensation packages for truck drivers — especially long-haul operators — “are no longer competitive with other industries” competing with the industry for a share of the shrinking labor market pool.

While the report acknowledges that an hourly pay system may be a “relevant consideration” in some segments of the industry where driving is the sole function or in short-haul/city P&D operations, it is not a solution for the industry at large.

The “reality is that drivers do inevitably arrive at some sort of per hour calculation of what they are paid,” it concluded. “Carriers must be competitive with each other. The key is not necessarily how drivers are paid, but how much they are paid.”

At the same time, the industry needs to do a better job compensating drivers for additional work they do as well as make pay packages more transparent in order to help drivers predict what their pay will be from week to week, the report said.

According to the task force, “industry leaders need to make a strong statement demonstrating to current and future drivers that we are serious about coming to grips with the issues that underpin the driver shortage.”

In addition to demographics, compensation, and driver quality of life, driver qualification is also identified as one of the key underpinnings of the shortage. To address that, the core values contain the recommendation that “a minimum standard of entry level apprenticeship or apprenticeship-like truck driver training should be mandatory” and there should also be a program of “ongoing training and/or certification” throughout a driver’s career.

The report concedes there is merit —at least in the short-term — in the argument that a driver shortage is good for the industry in that it creates tightness in capacity which in turn places upward pressure on freight rates. The report acknowledges “there will be no quick fixes, no magic bullets” and that “in the short and medium-term, the situation and its resulting impact on capacity is unlikely to change.”

However, it contends that in the long-term, the capacity imbalance is not sustainable and that “the combination of a shrinking labor pool and economic growth will, at some point in the future, create a situation where the industry will not be able to meet the standards of service that have been the hallmark of trucking’s rise” to dominance.

The onus for creating solutions to the driver shortage lies with the carriers, the report stated — “the entities that hire, fire, determine what and how to pay drivers; who price their service and deal with their customers; and who are ultimately responsible for their businesses and for ensuring they have the people to do the work.”

To that end, the report includes a core values statement by the task force to “guide the industry in the development of an action plan now and its efforts in the future.” The task force’s trucking core values follow:

  • Truck drivers are our most important asset, the face of the industry — to our customers and to the public — and they are deserving of respect.
  • Truck drivers should have an improved ability to predict what their weekly pay is going to be; compensation packages need to be competitive with or better than alternative employment options and more transparent.
  • Truck drivers should be paid for all the work that they do and earn enough to cover all reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred while on the road for extended periods.
  • 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.
  • Drivers should be able to rely on their carrier not to interfere with their personal time by (for example) calling them back to work early.
  • 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, etc., who certify such things.

David Bradley, CEO of the Alliance, said that addressing the driver shortage will require a long, multi-year effort.

“The Blue Ribbon Task Force is providing the necessary leadership and has scoped out a coherent direction that the CTA board has now endorsed,” he said. “But, the report is not the final word on the matter; it is the beginning of a long journey. Ultimately, it is market forces and how all motor carriers and their customers respond which will determine how the issue is resolved.”

To request a copy of the full report, email [email protected].

About the Author

Deborah Whistler

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