Canada faces truck driver shortage

Sept. 18, 2007
An escalating shortage of qualified commercial truck drivers has been found across all of Canada, according to a study by the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council

An escalating shortage of qualified commercial truck drivers has been found across all of Canada, according to a study by the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council.

The study indicated that driver recruitment/retention is enhanced by well-maintained equipment, pre-well-organized paperwork, paid wait times, clean cabs, training opportunities, and a signing bonus.

Canadian fleets lose 22.1 percent of their drivers per year, which compares to an average driver turnover rate of 36 percent recorded at the time of the initial study. Even after the employers recruit new personnel, about 12 percent of the industry’s job openings remain vacant-- representing an immediate need for 12,000 additional Class 1/A drivers.

Almost half of the fleets said that during surveys in 2006 that a lack of personnel forced them to idle equipment in the previous six months. Sixty percent cited the driver shortage as one of the top two concerns facing their organizations.

“There is no magic bullet to solve every human resource challenge, but this is the industry intelligence that fleets can use in their recruiting, training, and retention strategies,” says Linda Gauthier, the council's executive director. “A high dollar and resulting slowdown in the manufacturing sector may have led some Eastern Canadian fleets to impose a temporary freeze on new hires, but the long-term need for qualified drivers is still a reality.”

Independent researchers surveyed 1,432 employers and agencies, 270 newly hired drivers, 591 Class 1/A test participants, and 954 licensees who were renewing their Class 1/A licenses. They also analyzed occupation and industry-related data from Human Resources and Social Development Canada.

Even though Canada has 662,400 Class 1/A license holders, a significant share of these individuals have retired or never worked as a commercial driver, the related studies conclude. Almost one-third of inactive licensees left jobs behind the wheel in favor of different careers. At a time when the trucking industry’s retirement rates are on the rise, there is also little comfort in the knowledge that 73.3 percent of inactive license holders are over the age of 45, the council said.

Compounding matters, the industry’s newest drivers don’t tend to consider trucking until after they’ve worked in other careers, and 60 percent of them are over the age of 30.

Each region of the country also faces unique challenges. Turnover rates in Atlantic Canada are higher than elsewhere in the country, and tend to involve more layoffs or terminations. British Columbia’s fleets face a higher-than-average retirement rate and relatively high “quit” rate. A large number of job vacancies in the Prairies (14.9 percent) can be linked to a greater likelihood that drivers will quit. Quebec and Ontario fare the best, with respective turnovers of 17.1 percent and 18.7 percent, but new hire rates still can’t keep up with the demand.

To retain the drivers they have, employers are offering an array of benefits such as: life, accident or injury insurance (offered by 51.7 percent of fleets); medical and dental coverage (51.7 percent); paid time for training (42.7 percent); guaranteed days off (38.6 percent); and performance incentive programs (31.1 percent). Other companies provide flexible work weeks or adjust activities to accommodate older personnel.

The retention of qualified personnel is particularly important, given the fact that more than half of today’s employers feel that license holders lack the necessary training and experience. Even when they have a license in hand, 63.5 percent of newly hired drivers feel they need additional training, whether it involves regulations (cited by 24.3 percent); backing, coupling, and uncoupling (18.9 percent); shifting and transmission (12.2 percent); defensive driving (8.1 percent); or the essential skills of reading, writing, and math (8.1 percent).

The main difference between a passing and failing grade in a Class 1/A test appears to be the number of hours of training, highlighting the need for students to attend high-quality training programs.

Almost one in every four fleets (24.5 percent) offer more training than they did two years ago, and about 35 percent of employers have increased the amount of training offered to new hires. In contrast, just over 17 percent of fleets do not offer any training at all, even though support material is widely available through groups such as provincial trucking associations and the CTHRC.

Among the findings in the six technical reports that detail the Canada’s Driving Force Phase 2 results:

•The existing shortage of Class 1/A drivers is expected to worsen over the next five years. Almost 60 percent of employers cite the shortage as one of their top two concerns, up from the 50 percent measured in 2002.

•The driver shortage is idling trucks. Almost half of those surveyed had to idle trucks in the previous six months because of the shortage of personnel; 41.5 percent noted that the shortage affects their ability to move freight.

•Trucking tends to be the “next” career choice. The industry’s newest recruits are likely to come from other industries.

•The shortage is a training issue. Fifty-one percent of employers feel the real shortage relates to a lack of “qualified” drivers, because license holders often lack the required training and experience. A mere one-third of today’s fleets (30 percent) offer driver training of their own.

See other coverage on Canadian drivers in Bulk Transporter online.