Trucking industry looks for answers with new market intelligence study

Government funding of $2.8 million to focus on recruitment challenges

Trucking industry looks for answers with new market intelligence study
The trucking industry is not necessarily part of the conversation when it comes to students and career counsellors, says the executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association. Carolyn Franks /

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To identify some of the recruitment issues facing Canada’s trucking industry, the federal government is doling out $2.8 million for a labour market intelligence study.

The last industry-validated study for the trucking and logistics sector was in 2011, according to Véronique Simard, press secretary for Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, in Ottawa.

“With economies changing globally, it is vital to have updated sectoral intelligence to inform workers, industry and post-secondary education institutions of new opportunities and a changing work environment,”

The funds will be used to help those in the industry — which employs about 500,000 Canadians — better understand the realities of trucking in the country.

“The sectoral intelligence study will be conducted over the course of about 30 months and will increase the ability of trucking and logistics employers to recruit and retain qualified employees,” she said.

The funds fall under the auspices of the federal government’s Sectoral Initiatives Program (SIP), said Simard.

“The SIP’s mandate is to help industry identify, forecast and address their human resources and skills issues. There is a high level of uncertainty and fear of automation and the changing nature of work in the trucking industry, especially for blue-collar workers.”

The organization Trucking HR Canada will be the lead participant in the labour market intelligence study and drive the project forward.

“We clearly need some updated information with regards to where the shortages are, the changing skills that are required, the different types of occupations that are emerging,” said Angela Splinter, CEO at Trucking HR Canada in Ottawa. “We have new technologies (and) so many things happening in our industry so, obviously, we need to stay on top of that. And this project will enable us to do that.”

First steps for the industry group will be to identify the experts who will prepare the study, she said.

“We’re engaging with economists and people who have those research skills to help us prepare for the research component, and we’re also staffing up to make sure that we’ve got everyone that we need to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of industry as we move forward.”

One of the main goals for the association is to paint a more accurate and updated picture of the makeup of employees in the trade, she said.

“We want to have a better understanding of some of the demographics within our workforce. For example, we know that a driver today is seven-and-a-half years older than the average Canadian worker… but that’s 2011 data.”

As well, the group wants to know just how big of an impact technology is having on the industry.

“We’re seeing a real need within our industry for more IT workers as we’re looking at data analytics and some of the technology changes that are happening,” said Splinter. “We just want to probe what those needs are so we can better help employers in meeting that.”

Labour shortage

One of the biggest challenges is finding enough people to fill jobs, said Splinter.

“Every fleet is struggling to find drivers. There are unseated trucks, there is freight that is being turned away, business is being turned down because they don’t necessarily have all of the people in order to get the work done.”

There’s a perception that truck drivers won’t be needed in 10 years or so, she said, but the organization doesn’t see that happening.

“I don’t know of a trucking company that’s placed an order for a driverless truck, for example. We want to manage some of that perception to certainly get the message out that this is an occupation that is still required.”

The worker shortage is not well-known among the general public, according to the head of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA).

“There’s certainly a huge need to make sure that we educate the right people about the industry because I think, today, we’re not necessarily part of the conversation when it comes to students and career counselors,” said Jean-Marc Picard, executive director of APTA in Dieppe, N.B. “We want to be in the forefront of those conversations in terms of good careers, because the industry has changed tremendously in the last 10, 15 years.”

It is becoming increasingly hard for the trucking industry to bring in a fresh crop of workers, he said.

“Obviously, (the need for) drivers takes precedence, but the average age is up there, people are retiring. And we’re not necessarily seeing an influx of young people coming into our industry to drive a truck.”

For Ray Trenholm, manager at the School of Trades and Technology at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., the federal funds are sorely needed and should help employers gain more insights.

“The trucking companies definitely have to make it attractive to work for them,” he said.

“You only have so many people wanting to become a truck driver. We don’t have a great population (and) when you start breaking it down — and if we use males between 25 and 45 as our demographic — you figure out how many of those individuals are in Canada... And then if only one per cent of those choose trucking as a career, because they may to become a cook or a doctor or a lawyer, yeah, there’s not many.”

Training standards needed

Training and standards are another big issue for the industry, according to the driving school trainer.

“The big challenge in Canada is we need to harmonize the training standards across Canada, we need to get the industry recognized as a skilled trade,” said Trenholm. “The biggest thing that we all need is to get a standardized funding program that helps pay for the tuition across Canada, or especially in British Columbia, because right now we don’t have a traditional student-loan program like our university has.”

“By changing the official standard, we can probably become a skilled trade — that’s where it all starts,” said Picard. “Therefore, training becomes mandatory and you’re starting to see some structure within the industry in terms of how we train our drivers consistently across Canada.”

If you look at any other trade, the training is very structured and consistent, he said.

“We need to follow that same trend. It’s a very high-profile occupation with lots of responsibilities when you’re on the road with thousands and thousands of people, and you don’t know how they’re going to react because the roads are different from one province to the next.”

There is a great appetite among employers to have such a designation, said Splinter.

“Oh, absolutely. Everybody in the industry would like to see that the occupations have a higher-skilled recognition,” she said. “As it exists right now, as an example, there’s no formal documentation of training that’s required.”

“We would have to have consistency across the board. And it’s more than just entry-level training, it’s that on-the-job training and on-the-job learning that would need to be documented and recognized,” she said.

Industry roundtables

Reaching out to all the industry associations will become part of the effort funded by the government, said Simard.The sector review will include seven roundtables across the country with the participation of the different provincial trucking associations, and an online survey will be created for those unable to attend.

Once the labour market information (LMI) is available, “there will be innovative tools and resources developed, such as career profiles, to help balance the supply and demand gaps for the trucking and logistics industry,” she said.

“The study will produce valuable information that will help identify skill gaps in the industry and recommend hiring Canadians from untapped labour pools, such as women, Indigenous People, people with disabilities, visible minorities, veterans/transitioning military personnel and youth,” said Simard.

“The sectoral LMI will increase the ability of trucking and logistics employers to recruit and retain qualified employees.”

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