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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Driver Shortage – A Game of Inches by David Bradley

By: David Bradley

One man practicing sportsmanship is better than 100 preaching it — so said Knute Rockne, the Notre Dame coaching legend, who went on to be one of the greatest college coaches of all time. His point was that when it comes to inspiring others and influencing change, actions always speak louder than words.

It was that sort of thinking that went into the launching of the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage. The task force, whose work is ongoing, comprises a group of carrier leaders who are making a comprehensive and honest attempt to tackle the industry’s biggest operational concern — the long-term chronic shortage of qualified commercial drivers in Canada.

It would be easy to dismiss what the task force is attempting to do. There is no shortage of cynics in the industry.  And, yes I have heard the argument that there is no driver shortage, just a shortage of companies willing to pay more. There is no denying monetary compensation is a factor and it’s true in some sectors pay rates have not kept pace with the nature and demands of job – the task force has acknowledged that. But it’s also equally true that there is good (dare I say even very good) money to be made in this industry. Even the specialized, premium sectors of the industry where pay tends to be higher are not immune from human resource challenges. The trucking industry isn’t the only sector facing a shortage of qualified workers but it is perhaps one of if not the most impacted.

The underpinnings of the shortage are broad and systemic. But as the Conference Board of Canada concluded, they’re also generational, perceptual and socially reflected in the nation’s demographic trends. The Conference Board, as well as the BRTF, concludes that a number of strategies could help bridge the supply and demand gap. Wages and working conditions are obvious. A reorganization of trucking activity and supply chains in order to reduce pressures on long-haul drivers and make better use of their time is needed. Mandatory entry level driver training and upgraded licence standards to achieve a skilled occupation designation are also important.

Some of these approaches will require cooperation from outside forces such as supply chain partners and government. But for the most part, the trucking industry will have to try and control its own destiny, which is not easy for an industry like hours. But as the task force has taken pains to state, carriers alone hire, fire, and pay their employees and set the rate for the services provided. Leadership for solving the driver shortage has to come from the carriers. There are things you can control now without relying on anyone else. Why not start by adopting and implementing the Core Values recommended by the BRTF in your human resource policies.

I’ve listed a selection of the Core Values before in this space, but I think some of them bear repeating: For example, truck drivers are our most important asset, the face of the industry — to our customers and to the public and they are deserving of respect. They should have an improved ability to predict what their weekly pay is going to be.

Compensation packages need to be competitive with or better than alternative employment options and more transparent. Drivers should be paid for all the work that they do and earn enough to cover all reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred while on the road for extended periods. Their time at work should not be wasted — at shipper/consignee premises, waiting for their trucks in the shop, or waiting for a response to a question of their carrier. They should be able to rely on their carrier not to interfere with their personal time by (for example) calling them back to work early. Driver wellness should be a top priority for employers.

You can go to drivershortage.ca to see how carriers are implementing some of these actions into their company’s human resource policy. (And folks, if you don’t have a human resource policy, the Core Values are a good place to start).

In many ways is one of the most innovative, technologically pioneering industries there is. In other respects, it’s painfully old school and slow to adapt to new generational realities. In part this reflects the hypercompetitive nature of the industry where price is king and many carriers are just trying to survive. Changing that is difficult. Who wants to be the first canary in the coalmine? But there are times when it’s the right thing to do. Like good sportsmanship. Don’t be the 101st in line to just preach about it.