Taking the High Road: Trucking Careers Lead to Positive Destinations

It’s sometimes difficult to believe just how much we take trucking for granted. With over three quarters of the goods in this country delivered by trucks, trucking is quite literally the backbone of canadian economy. The trucking industry plays a substantial economic role in both national and international supply chains. It represents 4.5 Percent of canada’s gdp, employs almost a million people and contributes to the economic success of several key sectors, among them forestry, mining, and construction.

By Carter Hammett

Canada’s freight industry is composed of a network of relationships between private and public industry. Recent statistics indicate that up to 90% of all consumer goods, products and food were shipped by truck nationally and about two thirds (by value) to the United States. Without the trucking industry, business would literally grind to a halt.

Those are pretty impressive stats. Why then does such a shortage of drivers exist? It’s true that the industry has had to overcome a lot of negative stigma. Once seen as “the third choice” after university and college, the perception of truckers has been traditionally negative says Dave Giles, a training facilitator with Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC). 

“People still look down on truckers and perceive trucking as a job that you do if you have no skills…If you’re bad at school.”

To some degree this attitude still exists. Indeed, a recent survey by CareerCast ranked trucking as the 19th worst job anyone could have. The survey ranked the worst jobs in the U.S. based on job stress, satisfaction, safety, pay, future job prospects, and job security. While jobs like food server and photographer fared poorly, trucking was still considered a better job than school bus driver, corrections officer and the worst job in North America, taxi cab driver.

The survey identified several reasons for this, including sleepless nights, the emergence of autonomous technology by companies like Tesla, which are perceived as threats to job security and the stress of managing a vehicle that weighs literally thousands of pounds. 

But slowly, ever so slowly, the industry is waking up, shaking off its boys’ club past, reinventing itself and taking baby steps into the 21st century.

“Trucking is really evolving…it’s not the wild west anymore. It’s very professional and competitive,” says Giles.

It also offers fantastic career opportunities and good money says Trucking HR Canada (THRC) CEO Angela Splinter.

“Trucking is a sustainable career choice,” she offers. “Some people come in as temps and they realize the longer-term benefits.”

Among those benefits are changes in technology, including the introduction of GPS and driver assistance programs among others. Surveillance systems are now a standard feature in trucks as are entertainment features and internet connectivity.

“The nice thing is that trucks have modernized all the features of today’s vehicles,” says Giles. “The reliability factor’s increased as well. GPS allows you to re-route. In the old days you could wind up in a traffic jam and be there for hours.”

A key driver in emerging technology belongs to automation. This might be a good thing as it could create more productive opportunities for a driver’s time in the future. Fully automated vehicles are still light years away though.

Another value that’s changed during the past decade—important to an underrepresented demographic, youth–is a commitment to greener business and technological features. That means factors like alternatives to fossil fuels, new exhaust filters and fuel-efficient engines. It also means innovative solutions like electric trucks starting to make their mark within the industry.

These shifts are reflective of changing values that mirror the concerns of an evolving demographic that’s more culturally diverse, younger and self-reliant than previous generations. It also means meeting the demands of a changing workforce. As a result, new opportunities for employment in the trucking industry are widely available as transport corporations and industry recruiters work towards understanding and meeting the needs of a fickle labour force while trying to keep up with the challenges of a demanding industry with high needs.

So, for those considering a career in trucking, let’s take a look at the current state of the industry and what that might mean for you.

According to data released by THRC and the Canadian Trucking Alliance, the Canadian trucking industry generated a total revenue of 37.9 billion from about 61 million shipments. As of 2018, just over 317,000 drivers were employed in the industry. Of these, 97% identified as male. Only three percent identified as women. Average salary will vary depending on the type of truck driven and distances, but in 2016 the average Canadian trucker’s salary was listed at $45,681 annually. Sadly, women make about 20% less than their male counterparts.

Canada also manufactures trucks. In fact, Canadian truck production is roughly double that of car production, with about 120,000 produced in 2018. Sales have increased yearly and grew nearly 40% to $63 billion.

Trucking and logistics have one of the highest vacancy rates of any industry, at 6.6%, a figure that has doubled since 2016. That translates into about 20,000 vacant truck driver positions unfilled in Canada, with an estimated vacancy rate of 34,000 projected by 2024.

That means that unemployment rates for truck drivers is 34% lower than the Canadian average. Between 2016-2018, the unemployment rate for Canadian truck drivers decreased from 6.6 to 3.8 percent.

So what’s the profile of a professional truck driver look like anyway?

According to the highwayofopportunity.ca web site, which promotes trucking jobs as viable career choices, professional truck drivers operate heavy trucks to deliver a variety of goods, including livestock, raw materials and finished goods across provincial and international boundaries. They can be either self-employed or work for a variety of companies in moving, distribution, manufacturing or transportation. Drivers are responsible for all aspects of their vehicle, including safety and security of their loads.

In terms of foundational requirements, most drivers possess a high school diploma at minimum, coupled with at least some entry-level warehouse experience preferred. Most training in ground transportation in the Atlantic region consists of a 12-week professional driver training program, which includes at least four weeks’ of practical training.

The job can be both physically and cognitively challenging. You’ll be expected to be efficient and effective at loading and unloading, working under tight deadlines and engaging in a lot of repetition. Furthermore, in addition to possessing essential skills like reading, writing, math and documentation, some technology skills will become a greater requirement in the future, including electronic logs.

“There’s now a lot more emphasis on driver’s skills,” says Giles. ”They’re still required to do basic testing, licensing and physical exams, but there’s a lot more emphasis on self-management as well.”

Outlook in Atlantic Canada—and across the country—is very good, with at least 4000 job openings predicted to occur in the area in the next several years. An interesting side note is that for every trucking-related job created in the Maritime region, six more are created in the supply chain. Upward mobility largely depends on individual long term goals, but the field is ripe with opportunities, ranging from fleet manager to Human Resources, to terminal operations. A highway driver working in Atlantic Canada can expect to generate up to an estimated $60,000 in wages, while a local driver can expect to take home around $40-45,000.00.

But wait a minute: if you thought truckers were the only jobs available within the industry, you would be missing dozens of other potential job chances as well. Indeed, trucking is sometimes a “gateway” job leading to sector opportunities, including administrative assistants, trainers, parts technicians, dispatchers, managers, warehouse personnel and safety specialists among other positions. These jobs also experience talent shortages.

Underrepresented Groups

In response to these ongoing shortages, Trucking HR Canada (THRC) has kicked up its outreach efforts, targeting several groups who are underrepresented in the hopes of luring them towards lucrative career potential. “People come to today’s workforce with different backgrounds, and different needs and expectations. These groups are currently underrepresented in trucking which means there are untapped labour pools for which the industry needs an attraction and retention strategy,” states a THRC report, Diversity and Inclusion: A Roadmap for Canada’s Trucking and Logistics Industry.

Among the most recent recruitment campaigns is one aimed squarely at indigenous youth.

Launched this summer, THRC partnered with Indigenous Services Canada to deliver career awareness resources to Indigenous youth in northern Canada.

“Indigenous people are the fastestgrowing demographic in Canada. We’re working to target that group as a potential pool,” says Splinter. “They’re largely underrepresented in all aspects of the trucking industry.”

The project will collaborate with Carcross/Tagish First Nations to deliver a workshop next year to showcase career awareness resources and tools across the Yukon.

“We will also work to build relationships with groups that can help our employers better connect with all labour pools,” said Splinter.

Women, new Canadians and people with disabilities are also non-traditional segments of the community being targeted for industry recruitment.

For women – which this magazine addressed in a previous issue – the biggest barrier is industry image. Women in Trucking (WIT) has stated that women don’t picture themselves in the industry in part because they aren’t exposed to women who can model successful careers for others.

Splinter Agrees with the Statment

A lot of women have concerns around safety,” she says. “We need to do a better job at addressing stigmas and showcasing the female drivers that we do have.”

Women also report higher rates of sexual harassment, with a whopping 65% reporting sexual harassment and unwanted advances being concerns.

People with disabilities, meanwhile are even more poorly represented than women.

“We know they have a harder time integrating into the labour pool,” says Splinter. “We tend to see this as a retention issue. The workforce is aging and so there’s potential for development.” 

Some of the best practices implemented by trucking and logistics employers include reviewing their hiring practices to allow for more accommodations, flexible work opportunities and partnering with community agencies that support the employment needs of people with disabilities. Worth noting is that many disabilities remain invisible and episodic, meaning that the come-and-go aspect of their challenges (like epilepsy and depression) aren’t always a consistent issue. In fact trucking can be a career where some disabilities can excel. Conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can actually be an asset when it comes to working shifts. Because of the isolated nature of trucking, people with high-functioning autism (formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome) can also do well in these careers, since social skills tend to be problematic for this community.

One community group making inroads are new Canadians. According to the THRC diversity report, 65% of all people of colour come to Canada as immigrants. The average age of visible minorities is 33.4 years old, compared to the average age of truckers, which is a startling 49 years old.

“Some groups like south Asians (Indian subcontinent) and southeast Asians (ie. people from countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand) are very well represented,” says Splinter. “Employers would do well to assess their demographics and pay attention to things like honoring holidays celebrated by these communities.”

Is it possible the two Yutes….? (with apologies to my cousin Vinny)

Another demographic ripe for recruitment is youth. It’s somewhat startling to realize that less than 15% of Canadian truck drivers are under the age of 35. A document published by Trucking HR Canada in 2019, Millennials Have Drive, summarizes the results of a three-year study investigating millennials’attitudes towards the trucking industry. While 46% of this demographic had a positive impression, 55% had either no opinion or a negative one.

Millennials differ from previous generations in that they are perhaps the first generation born into both multiculturalism and technology. But their behaviours are also defined by variables like social media—Facebook, which isn’t just for old people, thank you very much—mental health, environmental responsibility and something many of us tend to overlook: work-life balance.

“Work-life balance is important to them. We can’t expect young people to respond to traditional approaches of long-haul trucking,” Splinter says. “You can’t underestimate the importance of this.”

But there’s the emergence of an even younger demographic: Generation Z. These workers were born in the late 1990s and are perceived as the first, true “digital natives.” They have a DYI attitude, tend to approach work through a series of side gigs and the shared economy while being attracted to employers with a strong social conscious. Their need for independence could make trucking an attractive choice for them.

A huge number of truck drivers are expected to retire over the next decade, and employers need to conceive and implement strategies to attract and retain younger workers. 

In Millennials Have Drive, we learn that recruiters are starting to make inroads by investing in entry-level drivers and implementing strategies like starting young drivers on local routes, recruiting drivers with some light-and-medium trucking experience and offering mentoring opportunities to broaden their pool of candidates. The introduction of mandatory entry level training in some provinces is perceived as being helpful as well.

With an untapped talent pool representing a variety of communities, the time is ripe for people to consider a career in trucking. An increasing number of carriers are constantly assessing ways of attracting the best and brightest of potential candidates and offering retention incentives that include everything from bonuses for safe driving to enhanced training programs. This is one of the keys to keeping talent in an ongoing balancing act that affects a multitude of stakeholders, from shippers to customers.

“We have to be focused and listen to the next generation,” says Splinter. “Trucking is so important with the general public. It’s a field that’s changing, evolving, growing. We need young people to realize that.”

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