July 29th 2019
Driver Shortage? Advantage: Log Hauling Industry by Greg Munden
Greg Munden is the owner of Munden Ventures Ltd. https://www.mundentrucking.ca/contact , a 4th generation log harvesting, trucking and commercial vehicle maintenance operation based in Kamloops, British Columbia. As a Past Chairman of the British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA) and current Secretary/Treasurer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA),Greg spends a good deal of his time working on industry issues, including the truck driver shortage.
By now, every sector of the trucking industry is feeling the affects of the often-discussed driver shortage. In a recent survey conducted by Abacus, a shortage of drivers and the resulting idle equipment was the #1 issue cited by trucking industry CEO’s. And the issue is only projected to grow exponentially over the next several years with the shortage nationally pushing through 38,000 drivers by 2024 (read more about the driver shortage in our BLOG,. 4-reasons-for-the-truck-driver-shortage-in-british-columbia-and-how-to-fix-it
Many industry leaders feel that elevating the status of professional driver to “skilled”, and maybe even rolling it into a red seal trade program (or trade equivalent) is part of the answer to bringing back the pride, respect and image of the industry. While getting to recognition as a skilled trade makes perfect sense – after all, there is no doubt that these are highly skilled jobs, achieving this would require changes to the NOC (national occupation classification) code – which is only reviewed federally every 4 years.
My family business is entering it’s 4th generation in the log hauling sector of the trucking industry. I believe our sector has a significant competitive advantage within trucking to both attract and retain professional drivers…and here’s why.
Control Over the Driver Experience
The single biggest advantage that the log hauling sector enjoys over the rest of the trucking industry, is having direct control, or at least significant influence, over the entire driver experience. Most often, there are only two or three parties who need to be actively involved in the daily driver experience – the trucking company itself, the logging contractor and the licensee (sawmill or owner of the timber).
If you think about the daily life of a professional log hauler, it typically consists of:
1) Travel from home or the company terminal out to the forest for a load;
2) Load from a logging contractor who typically has dedicated trucks with dedicated loading times;
3) Travel a combination of forestry (off-highway) roads and public roadways to the sawmill or reload yard for unloading;
4) Return for a second and maybe third load.
5) Return home at night (in many cases).
Influencing the elements that affect a log hauler’s day only requires the motivation of a few people…and these people seldom change. Most often, a log hauler hauls from the same logging contractor for weeks at a time, and sometimes for years. At worst, a log hauler with a seniority position (or contract) with a mill may have to switch to another regular logging contractor within the system they normally haul anyways. Either way, there is likely only a few logging contractors normally involved in providing loads to the log hauler. The licensee typically, by contractual relationship, has a great deal of influence over how the logging contractor conducts himself – including, how trucks and drivers are treated.
The off-highway roads a log hauler is required to travel are, most often, built and maintained by a combination of the licensee, logging contractor and ministry of forests. Once again, there are not a lot of parties involved when it comes to improving the working conditions for a professional log hauler.
The licensee often owns the sawmill or reload yard that a log hauler needs to deliver his loads to. As such, it is the licensee’s employees who are receiving the truck (scalers) and who are responsible for unloading the truck. The licensee controls the hours of operation of the scale and staff, the level of service provided to trucking contractors, and how drivers are dealt with while on their worksite.
The licensee also determines other conditions of employment, including the rate of pay earned by the truck and allotted time to complete each load – or cycle time (which, combined, often go into the calculation of a driver’s pay if paid by piece work – common in the log hauling industry).
As you can see, for much of the log hauler’s day, the licensee has either control or significant influence. Contrasted to general trucking, the log hauling industry has drastically lower barriers to making changes within the system. In an environment of driver shortages, licensees have become increasingly motivated to improve the driver experience and, as demonstrated above, have the ability to do it.
The logging industry has begun taking steps to identify the operational challenges facing drivers and their trucking contractors, including:
1. Length of work day – British Columbia licensees are actively considering reducing the targeted hours expected of log haulers. Although running under provincial hours of service exemptions in some provinces allowing up to 15 hours/day of work time, licensees are looking at reducing the target working hours to a more socially acceptable target maximum. While this varies by licensee, an often-discussed target of 12 hours per day is common. While this would not be a regulated hours of service change, the industry is looking at voluntary adoption of this to improve driver lifestyle, safety, attraction and retention.
2. Start time – it has not been uncommon for log haulers to start at unconscionable hours of the day, or should I say morning. Drivers loading in the earliest loading positions may need to leave by 1:00 am, or earlier, in order to ensure the entire truck lineup can make their deliveries before the sawmill closing time. Many scales have moved to, or are considering, unmanned scale systems which allow trucks to arrive during a much broader window each day. Doing so allows contractors to adjust their starting time to allow for a later start.
3. Length of Season – historically, log hauling suffered from a very short productive season due to a number of factors, including: spring breakup where soft roads can make it impossible to haul off-highway, fire season which can be unpredictable, mill target inventory levels which sometimes encourage sawmills to delay putting their trucking contractors back to work after breakup, and harvesting/hauling costs which can influence sawmills to focus more logging and hauling during the winter season which can be less costly. In an effort to improve the reliability of log haulers’ seasons, many sawmills have been focusing on opportunities to shorten the daily hour expectations (discuss above in #1) while lengthening the season by “decking” wood out of the bush and into sort yards or reloads which have year-round access.
4. Road conditions – certainly tied to the perception that trucking can be unsafe, licensees are actively working with log haulers to identify needed improvements in the off-road systems that they control. This not only includes improving road maintenance, but also road design, signage, etc.
5. Cycle Times – pressure related to unreasonable cycle times has often been cited in the sector as a source of risk, causing rushing and the feeling by log haulers that they may not get paid for the entire time it takes to do their job. Many sawmills have encouraged or even funded the early adoption of ELD and onboard telematics systems (read our blog here: an-unbiased-guide-to-eld-implementation-for-trucking-companies ),using this information to establish reasonable and achievable cycle times, at reasonable segment speeds.
Professional Designation and Recognition
Recognized as a significant barrier to attracting new people to the industry, crediting drivers with the skill it takes to be a professional driver is a important factor in the lack of pride that people associate with careers as professional drivers, and the lack of respect the profession receives from the families, friends and peers of people considering driving as a career.
At least in BC, the industry is making great strides to change both this perception, as well as the training and accreditation that goes into becoming a professional log hauler. The Professional Log Hauler Training Program has been developed by a group of industry veterans and rolled into a comprehensive, competency-based training program involving both academic and on-the-job, mentor-led training.
Successfully completing the program involves passing a third party, independent assessment which results in receiving a Professional Log Hauler endorsement. Already sawmills across the province are creating programs to encourage even existing drivers undergo the independent assessment and receive the professional endorsement. Read more about our experience with the Professional Log Hauler training program here. www.bcforestsafe.
The training program also creates the opportunity to develop the next generation of professional log hauler. Whether that is millennials, existing drivers engaged in general trucking or mature workers contemplating a career change – professional log hauling is positioning itself as something for people in all walks of life to seriously consider.
Log Hauling – The Elite Professional Driving Career
Often times, prospects are unclear what career paths exist in professional driving. Once again, log hauling has the opportunity to stand out amongst the crowd of driving jobs as the pinnacle of professional driving.
After all, the professional log hauler already commonly enjoys one of the highest rates of pay (many can make in excess of $100,000/year plus benefits),demands the highest level of driving skill, and affords one of the potentially best work/life balances in the “trade”. A licensee and contractor group motivated to continue improving these conditions only enhances the position of the professional log hauler as the driving position of choice, and one for people to strive for.
As a sector, part of the solution is simply articulating this good news story. Demonstrating to people considering trucking the opportunity to progress through entry level driving positions to ultimately reach the top as a professional log hauler, providing a clearer picture of the great opportunities to create a career in trucking.