Crunch time for truck-driver shortage

Plenty of retirements coming up, but precious few newcomers to take their place

Sylvie Paillard / Kamloops Daily News
February 21, 2013 01:00 AM

TRU truck driving student Bill Nobbs is learning the trade on behalf of his employer, ICL Performance Products, which hopes to bring its fire-retardant products closer to urban interface settings by trucking it in.

The trucking industry is on the brink of crisis due to a lack of drivers - and if you think that doesn't affect you, think again.

"The trucking industry has the greatest effect on our continued operation as a city," said Ray Trenholm, truck driving instructor for Thompson Rivers University's trades and technology school.

"I don't know of any industry that would shut down the university, would shut down the hospital, would shut down virtually anything quicker."

The problem is the mass retirement of baby boomers, and it's already upon us, said Trenholm.

"We need to have started this 20 years ago because everybody knows the baby boomers are going to retire," he said.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance commissioned a study entitled Understanding the Truck Driver Supply and Demand Gap and Implications for the Canadian Economy.

The findings released on Thursday show that "tens of thousands" of current drivers are approaching retirement age and there are "a very small number of young drivers taking their place."

One hindrance to getting more truckers on the street is the gap between training and actual hiring because most companies look for employees with at least two years of experience, said Ron Sean of Diamond Delivery.

Industry leaders are trying to adopt mentoring programs. As it stands, a "tag-along" initiative is often used where newbies accompany experienced drivers for about a month, said Sean. But that's not as helpful as it could be since it's often on the dime of the employee.

"Most employers would look at that as a freebie," he said.

Diamond Delivery isn't currently hurting for employees, he said, but he expects to be challenged by future retirements.

"The youngest driver I have is early 40s," he said.

Although TRU has more truck driving students than it can handle - the program is in the process of growing from its current six trucks - a few changes could help boost the industry further, said Trenholm.

It would help to include truck driver training in the government's student loan program.

The proposed Ashcroft Terminal, an inland port for the southern Interior, could also be helpful since it would mean shorter trips and thus increased availability, said Trenholm.

The Conference Board of Canada, which released the study, also suggested ways to improve the situation.

The board said what's needed are better working conditions and wages, mandatory entry level driver training and upgraded licence standards to achieve a skilled occupation designation and a reorganization of trucking activity and supply chains in order to reduce pressures on long-haul drivers and make better use of their time.

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