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4 Reasons for the Truck Driver Shortage in British Columbia, And How to Fix It

February 7th 2019

4 Reasons for the Truck Driver Shortage in British Columbia, And How to Fix It,

If you work in the trucking industry or rely on trucks to move your freight in British Columbia (or Canada , or the US for that matter),you are no doubt living the effects of the truck driver shortage. If your job is to solve this problem for your organization, you have the toughest job going in the industry.

So what has created these circumstances, and what can be done to make your organization an "employer of choice"? This blog is intended to examine these questions and potential answers.


By the Numbers

Why Does the Trucking Industry Face Such a Critical Problem?

What Can Be Done to Improve the Driver Shortage Situation?


By the Numbers

The most comprehensive analysis of the truck driver shortage was conducted by the Conference Board of Canada in 2016. At that time, an estimate of the potential driver shortage in Canada could reach as high as 33,000 by 2020 (that's next year),and 48,000 by 2024!. By all accounts, this number is proving out to be on the low side. It is currently estimated that 52% of professional driver job openings do not have suitable candidates to fill them.

In British Columbia, it was estimated there were 1,700 professional driver vacancies in 2017 (BC Labour Market Outlook). This number ballooned to almost 5,000 in 2018.

By 2027, across Canada there will be an estimated 917,000 jobs to be filled with only 438,000 young people entering the workforce. For the first time in history, there will be far more people exiting the workforce than are entering to fill those positions.

Worse, trucking is attracting virtually no young workers!

Why Does the Trucking Industry Face Such a Critical Problem?

Of course, almost all sectors are facing a labor shortage of some significance. Unfortunately, trucking is no longer attracting its share of the incoming labor force.

1. Poor Public Perception

At one time, professional drivers were respected for the job they did. All too often, this is no longer the case. As the labor crunch has become more widespread, certainly some trucking companies have lowered their hiring standards and the industry has endured a tarnished reputation from some bad apples. That said, most trucking companies maintain high standards and operate according to the regulations and with safety as their #1 priority. Unfortunately, a poor performer in the trucking industry brings a lot of negative attention.

Trucks are often not popular among the rest of the motoring public to begin with. Over the years, truck weights and dimensions have increased. As congestion increases in most major cities, trucks are increasingly viewed by the public as intimidating, or causing delays. The public, generally, has less patience for the "inconvenience" of commercial truck traffic with some municipalities even suggesting limiting truck access to their cities to night time hours, and removing or severely limiting any truck parking opportunities.

Poor treatment of drivers by shippers and receivers alike have contributed to the perception that the driving profession is 2nd rate. As drivers endure long waiting times (often without compensation),substandard waiting conditions (drivers are often asked to wait off-site, are banned from using washroom facilities, etc.),is it any wonder why we have a tough time attracting people?

2. Older Than Average Workforce

Almost all sectors have an aging workforce on average. Unfortunately, the average age of the current professional truck driver is higher than virtually all other professions - most recently 47 years old, almost 3 years older than most other sectors.

3. Non-Competitive Terms of Employment

The trucking industry suffers from some difficult conditions of employment, including:

    • Typical work day can be almost twice the length of a "typical" work day;
    • Virtually no overtime pay - many professional drivers are paid on a "productivity" basis (by the mile, % of revenue, etc.);
    • Little flexibility - unless very regional in nature, many long distance trucking companies struggle to find flexibility in their schedules. By nature, shipments must move from point a to point b, and rely on finding a return load (or a triangle route) to make it economically feasible. As a result, trucks and their drivers may be away from their home terminal for days or even weeks at a time. Accommodating a driver's request to make family events or appointments can often be difficult, at best.
  • Unpaid, unrecognized, unappreciated time - particularly in situations where drivers are paid based on productivity, they often face unpaid time due to things that are completely out of their control (weather conditions, shipper/receiver hours of operation, delays, dispatching, etc.). Worse, this time is often unrecognized and unappreciated by both the trucking company and the customer - commonly viewed as, "just part of the job".

4. Attracting and Retaining Workers - What Are The Obstacles?

    • Competition - the fact is, almost all sectors are looking for workers and many offer more attractive terms of employment. This is not just wage, but flexibility, recognition of time and other intangibles like pride in the job.
    • Safety - some trucking sectors, particularly vocational (log hauling for instance) are considered dangerous jobs. The track record in these sectors for injuries and fatalities does not help the perception.
    • Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) - British Columbia's graduated licensing program makes it very difficult to attract young workers to the trucking profession. Read more about the GLP here.
  • Inadequate Training Standards - It is commonly agreed by trucking companies that, even after graduating an accredited class 1 driver training program, most students are not qualified to actually enter the workforce as a driver.

1. Respect Drivers for the Professionals They Are

Being a professional driver today is a job not everyone can do. It is done by people with a unique set of skills and a work ethic second-to-none. These drivers should be highly respected for the job they do - by the trucking companies that they work for, the customers that they serve and the general public who, unknowingly, depend on these drivers for their daily lives. After all, as we like to say in the trucking industry, "if you got it, it came by truck". Improving the level of respect for this profession is the only way we should expect to attract and retain people in the industry - it is fundamental.

2. Consider Paying Your Drivers By The Hour

Without a doubt, the trucking industry has a leadership role to play in solving this problem. Aside from showing and demanding great respect for your driving staff, trucking companies should consider moving away from productivity pay systems to hourly pay. Like most workers in the country, professional drivers more and more feel they deserve to be paid for all of the time they put in. Many trucking companies are continuing to use traditional pay methods ($/mile, % of truck earnings, etc.). While moving to an hourly pay system can feel like a dangerous change, doing this forces trucking companies to analyze the work they have to ensure that it is efficient and for customers and receivers who provide good service in getting your trucks and drivers in and out of their facility in a timely manner.

3. Change The Job to Appeal to Millennials.

This generation of worker does not think or work the same as the traditional professional drivers in the industry. They also place a high value on things like:

  • Being respected for the work they do (see #1)
  • Work-life balance
  • What they are doing is making a difference
  • They have a voice and that what they have to say will be heard
  • They work in a progressive industry that adapts to change and technology

4. Reinvent Your Routes

Trucking companies may need to find ways to tailor their dispatches and routes to get drivers home more, to reduce the number of hours it takes to complete a day, etc. This may mean handing off loads or units at points along the route that drivers can complete and return home the same day, or at least the next day. This could mean either basing drivers and units along the route or, for larger trucking businesses, having terminals strategically located at exchange points that achieve the same goal of allowing drivers to return home more frequently.

5. Reassess Your Relationships

Shippers and receivers need to recognize and partner with trucking companies to help to improve drivers' lives. This means treating drivers well when on their site and insisting that all of their staff do the same, minimizing waiting time, having facilities for drivers to use if needed, and having reasonable expectations of delivery schedules. Simple things like adequate parking areas, washroom facilities and access to coffee or water can go a long ways in improving a driver's perception of their job, and ability and desire to serve you well.

Trucking companies may need to consider "firing" customers who do not treat their drivers with the respect they deserve. At a minimum, customers who provide the best level of service to drivers should be prioritized over customers who do not.

6. Lobby for Regulation Changes to Improve the Trucking Industry

Working with industry associations like the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA),the British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA),Interior Logging Association (ILA),Truck Loggers Association (TLA),Redi-Mix Concrete Association and others are great resources to lobby government at all levels to make the necessary regulatory changes needed to allow the industry to move forward to advance the driver shortage file:

  • Modification of the Graduated Licensing Program (GLP) to accommodate young people's training for a commercial drivers license. Learn More about the GLP here.
  • Modification of the National Occupation Classification (NOC) to reclassify truck driver as a semi-skilled occupation. More about the NOC here.
  • Increase the minimum standards to become a professional driver through the adoption of Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) and subsequent, industry-specific, training. Learn more about MELT here.
  • Regulatory adoption of technologies like Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) to help ensure drivers are treated fairly in terms of overall hours of work and other events beyond their control (waiting time, delays, etc.). Learn more about ELDs here.

The trucking industry has a great story to tell. It's one largely based on hard working people doing a highly skilled job, safely picking up and delivery virtually everything used in your day-to-day life. It is filled with a lot of rewarding and well-paying jobs provided by great, often-times small Canadian businesses.

The driver shortage is an iceberg. Those that are close to the industry understand the underlying size of this issue, but those at a distance cannot foresee the potential for serious disruption to our provincial and national economy. Unfortunately, it may not be until the bread isn't on the shelf at the grocery store before the general public and our various levels of government become aware and involved in helping to solve this crisis.

Raising the profile of the professional driver is an important first step in improving the situation, but it will take a concerted effort by many (trucking companies, shipper/receivers, industry associations, governments, and the general public) to move the yardsticks on this issue. In 2008 we were reaching a similar crisis; however, it was masked by the economic slowdown. Our biggest mistake was not continuing to work on it until now. Let's hope it's not too late.