Theme: Driver Recruitment
Casting Recruitment Net Farther
By Marek Krasuski
The driver shortage is nothing new. Some date it back to the 1980’s when it was thought that throwing money at the problem would alleviate the shortage. Recent updates confirm that the shortage is not only continuing but getting worst. The Canadian Trucking Alliance’s most recent study, Understanding the Truck Driver Supply and Demand Gap, says a scarcity of some 34,000 drivers is expected by 2024 based on current trends, with a possible increased shortage of 48,000 by the same year depending on how these trends change between now and then.
Over the years I’ve spoken with various experts and stakeholders in the industry, each with their own views on the ever widening supply-demand gap. Some say there is no shortage of licensed drivers. Rather, it is a shortage of qualified drivers that keeps trucks empty. As an example, they draw attention to schools that receive calls each year from licensed commercial drivers looking to improve specific skills such as backing into loading docks or learning to drive manual transmissions – skills which should already have been acquired.
Complicating the matter is the lack of consistency in training. Some registered schools provide top notch training while others, registered or not, deliver mediocre instruction. Efforts are underway to even out these training discrepancies with a mandatory, industry-wide standard of truck driver training. A new initiative, Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) for Class A drivers will require basic competencies in key areas while improving skills development for new drivers. The Ontario Trucking Association says it supports a proposal to require a minimum of 103.5 hours of instruction before learners are permitted to take a road test. It is hoped the initiative will weed out driving schools who graduate student drivers with substandard training and arm new drivers with the requisite skills capable of handling the rigours of the job.
But that may not be enough. The MELT Study says the industry has not successfully attracted new drivers. The percentage of younger drivers entering the industry has fallen over the past few years, and older drivers are poised for retirement. Mike Hamel, who has been in commercial transportation for decades, notes key problems which must be identified before solutions can be created. The first is money. “The average truck driver makes between $60,000 and $65000/year, however that is earned through many hours of stressful driving conditions. Most drivers work at least 12 hrs per day and work 6 days/ week with only a day and a half off at the end of that particular cycle. Depending on the company they work for, they may have to work rotating shifts. This is extremely difficult and compromises heath. Rotating shift work also contributes to driver fatigue,” he said.
Hamel adds that isolation while on the road, prolonged periods away from home, and lack of respect and sufficient training from many employers contribute to the growing demise of the personnel shortage. The result? “I find many parents discourage their kids from becoming professional drivers because it is still considered a low-on-the-totem-pole career. This negatively impacts the younger generation and increases their reluctance to get into truck driving,” Hamel continued.
If lack of respect is one deterrent to successful recruitment then it stands to reason that the opposite approach would reverse the trend. Adds Hamel “As a driver trainer, I’ve learned in order to retain drivers, we must treat these folks like Gold! A good commercial driver with a clean driving record and who drives with courtesy while demonstrating a good attitude is indeed just as valuable as gold in my opinion. Treating drivers well and offering good training will decrease the turnover rate substantially,” he concluded.
Carriers concur with this sentiment. Dmitry Usyatynsky, CEO of XAN Systems Inc. based in Newmarket, ON had this to day: “Years of experience have taught us that the very best hiring practice is to retain current drivers and maintain healthy, professional and caring relations in the company. Therefore. word of mouth and our referral program give the best results.”
A proactive and creative approach is of equal importance. Dave Trenholm, Recruitment Manager for Rosenau Transport Ltd., explains how the company incorporates a variety of strategies to attract drivers. “We generally use advertising sites like Kijiji and Indeed.com. These are inexpensive and effective. We also use pin-up, tear tab style ads that I post monthly at the various truck stops around Edmonton that have public bulletin boards. I have also used trucking forums on the internet such as Truck Stop Canada and The Truckers Report Canadian forum. Our advertisements are usually specific to the position, clearly outlining job duties and requirements. They must include what we offer as well as our company profile.”
Adding to the chorus of the recruitment call is RTL-Western Group of Companies. Stephanie Rudderham, Vice President for Human Resources, says the provision of proper tools and world class training have been successful recruitment strategies. The company also scouts drivers for the right attitude and follows up with the right training for maximum skill development. Employee perks and programs are additional incentives. Says Rudderham, “ Professional Truck Drivers receive a 5% increase in pay after 1 year of employment, RRSP matching that increases with seniority, company paid health and dental benefits, annual bonus opportunities, plus up to 4 quarterly good operations bonuses paid based on incident-free service. Slowly and steadily we have seen our turnover decrease and we continue to strive to lower it by utilizing the tools we have put in place which focus on engagement and retention. Our goal is to continue reducing turnover each year through a concerted focus on everyone,” she concludes
Indeed, a robust recruitment approach is essential in the face of today’s demographic reality. Only 6 percent of drivers are under 35 years of age, and this demographic group, commonly known as Millennials or Gen Ys, “undertake an intentional avoidance of technical careers,” says Ellen Voie, President of Women In Trucking and a stakeholder who knows well the challenges of recruiting a specific demographic cohort to the industry – namely women. Voie points out that mechanically-averse prospects are missing out on opportunities. “From electrician to welder to mechanic, the need for qualified technicians is increasing, but more young people are heading to college (University) instead. The benefit of technical careers is that most of these jobs cannot be outsourced or sent overseas. We’ll always need men and women who can fix the trucks and keep them moving,” she said.
Voie articulates another challenge know in the industry to many; namely the perception of driver as a non-professional career. “Trucking isn’t viewed as a professional career. Instead, it’s often been considered a career that allows the unemployed to get a job as a last resort. This is unfortunate as the role of a professional driver is an extremely skilled one.”
To those in the know drivers do more than drive, though just the act of driving itself and negotiating a 53-foot trailer on highways and in cities is a skill many would never achieve. Drivers also plan trips, organize reams of paperwork, manage the operating characteristics of their vehicles and execute professionalism in all aspects of the job; this, in addition to attaining a skill level sufficient to operate onboard technologies.
As capacity tightens Voie anticipated further measures to attract new recruits such as better pay, and the promise of work-life balance. Her organization is already reaching deep into the creative well of recruitment possibilities. Women In Trucking created a “Transportation Patch” for Girl Scouts (Girl Guides) so that young girls are exposed to jobs in the supply chain. Voie adds, “We are also pushing for a ‘Professional Driver Barbie’ so girls (and boys) can play with trucks and dolls at a very early age. I would like to see a movie or television show about a female driver who is successful and enjoys her job. Perhaps a comic book action hero figure who is a female professional driver would draw teens into the industry. One more idea I would like to see accomplished is a “Supply Chain game” where the player chooses the mode of transportation, the route and the type of equipment to deliver a shipment across the nation or across the globe. At Women In Trucking, we feel these are great ways to expose children to transportation careers.” Both men and women are invited to explore and join Women In Trucking by contacting www.womenintrucking.org.
To be sure, an industry problem which ultimately affects everyone, including the consumer in the long run, calls for a united approach. The aforementioned MELT initiative will help by standardizing professional qualifications, but industry and governments need a collaborative approach. Notes Ellen
Voie: “All sectors of the industry will need to increase recruitment efforts. The government can help with training costs and by working more closely with the industry to understand the needs better; for example, by ensuring the necessary skills are offered in middle or high school before the student graduates.” Carriers, too, would benefit by developing relationships with training schools so that their expectations of new graduates are made clear to the schools, and that they, the carriers, have the ability to influence the curriculum to better reflect industry demands.
It may go without saying, but saying it again never hurts. The better the benefits, the better the chances of recruiting more candidates. Predictable pay increases, ongoing training, chance for advancement in other areas of the company, healthcare benefits and defined pension plans are strong recruitment incentives. But even before the promise of better working conditions and incentives, carriers would do well to take their cue from people like Ellen Voie who are attracting people earlier in the life and work cycle and casting the recruitment net further afield. Outreach efforts can include not only driver training schools, but also high school level students, volunteer organizations, churches, community colleges and the unemployment office. Military veterans, many with well developed relatable skills already, immigrants, and displaced workers all are potential recruits for the transportation sector.
Finally, the quality of relationship between employer and employee significantly impacts driver recruitment and retention. According to poll results conducted by the consulting firm, Trincon Group, the majority of drivers, 65%, do not feel any loyalty to their employer, citing a lack of valuation as the principal reason. Demonstrating goodwill toward drivers, and others in the corporate structure, could go a long way in keeping this valuable resource happy and fulfilled while keeping trucks on the road. ☚