Northern Ontario Business magazine recently cited the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s updated study on the truck driver shortage in Canada, saying the labour gap will be felt most acutely in Northern Ontario:
Canada’s trucking industry is speeding towards a driver shortage more rapidly than previously thought. The shortage is already being felt in Northern Ontario, and industry groups are working to combat the shortage, pressuring government for support.
A June study by the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) called “Understanding the Truck Driver Supply and Demand Gap” suggested there will be a shortage of 34,000 drivers by 2024. A study in 2011 had predicted a shortage of only 33,000 in 2020.
The Ontario Trucking Association’s (OTA) president, David Bradley, said the shortage will hit Northern Ontario especially hard.
“Northern Ontario is almost entirely dependent on trucking for any of the consumer goods, for business inputs into the production processes, and also for shipping,” said Bradley. “Given that high level of dependence on trucking, it’s important to the Northern Ontario economy that we have enough truck drivers to service the need.”
Bradley said the type of trucking being done in the North – long distances over two-lane highways – is also the kind that appeals least to drivers.
“The kinds of truck traffic that moves in Northern Ontario, a lot of it falls into the full truckload marketplace where distances are great,” said Bradley. “The shortage is felt most acutely in the full truckload, long distance workplace.”
Bradley said that making the industry more appealing to new drivers is one of their biggest challenges.
The shortage is largely due to what the report is calling a “demographic cliff.” Older drivers are retiring, and there don’t seem to be young people stepping up to take their places.
“We’ve been facing this for the last five or six years,” said John McKevitt, vice-president of operations at McKevitt Trucking, based out of Thunder Bay. “The drivers are getting older, more are retiring and there are not enough young people.”
Recruiting younger drivers is at the forefront of the industry’s strategy to combat the shortage. One way this is happening is through Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT), introduced by Ontario in June, and coming into effect July 2017. At that point, drivers who wish to obtain a Class A licence will have to complete MELT.
“Now in Ontario you can basically walk in off the street and take the Class A licence test, that’s not what we want, we’ve been concerned for many years about the lack of competency,” said Bradley.
While imposing more requirements for new truck drivers may seem counterintuitive, Bradley said that MELT is a step towards making truck driving a more serious and desirable occupation.
“One of the reasons we’re having difficulty attracting young people into the business is that the occupation of tractor-trailer driver is deemed both officially and perception wise as an unskilled occupation,” said Bradley. “As a result, to some extent the occupation becomes a job of last resort, people who are looking to get into the trade say it’s not a skilled occupation or a trade, so they’re going to go somewhere else.”
While the province has helped with the introduction of MELT, McKevitt and Bradley said they would like to see more help from the government.
“The government has to wake up and realize that the industry needs help,” said McKevitt.
Along with recruiting young people in general, the OTA and highway carriers like McKevitt are also trying to target women to join the industry.
“Women are a growing part of the labour force, it’s something therefore that we need to tap into, there’s no doubt we are and continue to be a male dominated sector because being away from home often is not particularly attractive to female workers,” said Bradley.
McKevitt said his company is adapting to employee needs and expectations to try and improve the appeal of working as a truck driver.
“Driving is a different type of a lifestyle. Our guys average five days out at a time, so we’ve had to do things like reduce our radius,” said McKevitt. “We’re talking to people and doing the best that we can.”