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Breaker, breaker: help wanted

A looming driver shortage casts a pall on the trucking industry.
The keys are in the ignition.

The job description reads like this: see the country, work independently, and make a pretty good living in the process. Sounds enticing doesn’t it?

“It is a challenge for our industry and we do have many members with goods to move, but not the people to drive the trucks to move the goods,” laments Cory Paterson, Vice President of the B.C. Trucking Association (BCTA), describing British Columbia’s fast growing shortage of truck drivers.

While Statistics Canada estimates the country currently has about 20,000 job openings for professional truck drivers, approximately 5,500 of those positions are based in British Columbia.

“For an average fleet in BC, companies are losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lost opportunities,” bemoans Paterson.

He expects the driver shortage to get worse before it gets better. Referring to recent Stats Canada data, Paterson fears the scarcity could top 8,000 by the end of this year.

The Conference Board of Canada has also conducted a comprehensive analysis of the driver shortage and predicts the countrywide shortfall could reach 48,000 by 2024. While the industry currently employs approximately 318,000 drivers, it also has the highest job vacancy rate among all Canadian industries, averaging 6.6% in 2018.

“It’s not like we aren’t training people, but rather we need to train a lot more people to keep up with demands” notes Ray Trenholm, driver training manager at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops.

Trenholm fears easing the shortage may be impossible, and is adamant that training standards and regulation deserve much of the blame:

“There are just too many levels of government involved Canada wide,” argues Trenholm.

Another problem is that current truck driver training programs aren’t created equal; driver skills can differ greatly depending on which training program they completed.

“There is no harmonization that allows us to attract new drivers to the industry,” says Trenholm. The Conference Board analysis found that over half of professional driver openings in Canada do not have “suitable candidates” to fill them.

Cost is another factor. Trenholm says that while quality driver training can cost anywhere between $4,000 and $14,000, there are currently no student loan programs available for his course.

“We need to have federal and provincial governments come together to improve the ability of new drivers to finance their training in order to harmonize a national training program,” says Trenholm

Like many industries in Canada these days, today’s truck drivers are getting older. “A number of drivers are getting on in years and right now we have a very tight labour market competing for workers,” admits Paterson who speculates that most operators are in their 50s, and many are older than 65 with retirement just around the corner.

So now the question is whether this growing driver shortage can ever be fixed? While the challenges appear daunting, not everyone thinks it’s hopeless. For example, transportation and forestry firm owner Greg Munden recently wrote a blog post suggesting his solutions.

The fact remains that competition for workers is fierce among most industries in Canada, with numerous jobs available. And the next time you go to the store, remember this: if you bought it, a truck brought it.

As always, I welcome your comments and criticism on Twitter @kammornanchor and email [email protected].

Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.