The shortage of truck drivers in Western Canada has reached crisis proportions, say those in Alberta’s trucking industry.
In some cases, loads of goods are sitting at truck terminals ready for delivery but no qualified drivers are available to take them to customers.
And it is likely to get worse, say members of the Southern Alberta Truck Exposition Association.
“Two feet and a heartbeat, and the body’s fairly warm, you could be a truck driver,” quipped one trucker at a March 17 meeting of the group in Lethbridge.
His joke drew rueful grins from those gathered to discuss ways to attract people to a job that is at least 20,000 people short of the needed workforce.
A study that the Conference Board of Canada did in 2013 on behalf of the Canadian Trucking Alliance predicted Canada will have a truck driver shortfall of about 30,000 by 2020 if the industry fails to find new recruits in addition to replacements for retirees.
Lane Jacobsen, president of the association and a driver with Jay-Dan Transport, said trucking suffers from a stigma that it is a job for the uneducated or unskilled. It can cost up to $5,000 to train for the job to get the necessary Class 1 licence, and that can discourage many from making the attempt.
“Part of that is due to it not being recognized as a trade,” said Jacobson.
“Our society is based on high education, high paying jobs. In the past, a lot of the people who are successful today, who have a high education, they paid for their education by being truck drivers.”
Recognition of truck driving as a trade could lead to more training opportunities via technical schools, with the related option of financial assistance through student loans.
It might also allow truck drivers who come to Canada through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to apply and qualify for citizenship based on their work, he added.
Trevor Currie, owner and dispatcher for Gateway Livestock in Taber, has used the program to find at least 12 truck drivers for his livestock transport business. Only four are left, and one may soon have to return to his home country because of recent changes to the program.
“It’s been a great program until this last two years. Then it’s been horrible. They keep changing the rules as fast as you can put in new applications,” said Currie.
“The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is the only way to get started into permanent residence, and how do you apply for permanent residence when the Temporary Foreign Worker Program doesn’t let you stay here long enough to qualify?”
Gateway runs 32 trucks and could use three more, said Currie. He had hopes that applications from people recently laid off in Alberta’s oil patch would fill three driver vacancies.
“They don’t, however, meet a lot of criteria,” he said.
“I can’t insure anybody that’s under 25. They have to be able to cross the (U.S.) border, so they can’t have criminal records. They can’t have DUIs (driving under the influence). They have to pass a drug test to go into the U.S., and unfortunately that eliminates most of the applicants that I’m getting from the oil patch. It is surprising.”
He has found qualified drivers from the United Kingdom, Greece and Holland, but Currie said he can’t get the necessary approvals to hire them.
And even though transporting loads of cattle worth $200,000 each requires driving skill as well as knowledge about livestock, truck drivers are lumped in with chambermaids and burger flippers when it comes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, he added.
Insurance companies require drivers to have at least three years of experience, which is another limiting factor.