It’s a perfect storm.
That’s how Kevin Dutchak, Senior Risk Specialist at Sovereign Insurance, describes Canada’s ongoing truck driver shortage. In the second quarter of 2022, the number of vacant driver jobs peaked at 28,210, remaining high at 26,900 in the third quarter – a 7.9% vacancy rate, according to the latest Labour Market Snapshot (Jan. 2023) by Trucking HR Canada, a national non-profit organization.1
“During the pandemic, many drivers left the industry and as we’ve eased back into things, a lot of those drivers aren’t coming back,” says Kevin. “They’ve either retired or they have found jobs in other industries.”
At the same time, Kevin notes, the industry’s workforce is getting older. In fact, 35% of Canada’s truck drivers are 55 and older, compared to 22% of workers who are in that age group in all sectors. The industry also has some of the lowest representation of women, accounting for less than 4% of truck drivers.2
“There’s not a whole lot of young blood in the industry,” Kevin says. “In my experience, you don’t see a whole lot of new drivers getting into it.” On this front, research shows only 9.5% of truck drivers in Canada are younger than 30, compared to 24% of the entire Canadian labour force, and only 28%, are younger than 40, compared to 45% of the entire Canadian labour force.3
A few factors discourage workers from wanting to pursue trucking, according to Trucking HR Canada. The organization says the industry’s image suffers from “misleading stereotypes,” especially among millennials, and trucking is not viewed as a long-term career choice. Work-life balance is also a priority for today’s workers, including reasonable pay and benefits, a predictable schedule, safe working conditions, and job stability.4
This perfect storm of factors adds up to a hefty price tag. In 2020, Trucking HR Canada estimated that the driver shortage was costing the truck transportation industry as much as $3.1 billion in lost revenues every year.4 And the trucking industry isn’t the only one bearing the load of the driver shortage. The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) reports that the consequences for businesses that rely on trucking – from farmers to grocers to auto parts manufacturers – include cost increases of up to 30%, inventory bottlenecks, manufacturing disruptions, and risks to national food security.5
While there’s no quick fix to solving labour woes, there is a range of ways to help attract and retain workers, including promoting the positive aspects of trucking and logistics (such as steady work and a sense of freedom and independence); promoting safety policies and procedures; introducing financial subsidies for education and training; and addressing perceptions of the trucking industry among women and younger generations.6
Kevin, who actually worked as a truck driver early in his career, says the industry has to think outside the box. “There’s not a whole lot of interest in going on the road, being away from the family for two or three weeks, and spending that time in the sleeper berth,” says Kevin. “So, the number of drivers looking to do long hauls are waning. While we still need drivers to go cross-country, a lot of carriers are becoming more centralized in their regions and looking at options such as interline services and rapid relay trucking.” Typically that means drivers meet at key transport hubs, swap trailers, and return to their home terminal every night.
“It’s not without its challenges – there are some cargo transport situations that would be difficult to manage with a rapid relay system,” says Kevin. “But it’s one way the trucking industry can adapt in order to make it more attractive.”
When drivers do get hired, it’s important they are given all the tools necessary to be successful in the industry. “To get it right, we have to make sure entry-level drivers are given appropriate mentorship, and that all drivers are provided with the right resources, support, and training to set them up for success,” says Kevin.
That can mean anything from enhanced employee perks to creating incentives tied to driver scorecards, a performance evaluation tool typically based on metrics like speeding, aggressive behaviour, or idling. Instead of using scorecards to provide only negative feedback, Kevin says it can be used to offer rewards for achievements and provide positive feedback. “We have to continue to adapt the way trucking is portrayed to the wider audience, especially if we’re going to attract people to the industry.”
Investing in drivers and showing you care will also go a long way. “Companies that treat drivers with respect and invest in their success have a great reputation – and that drives people to the door,” says Kevin.
While the labour shortage is unquestionably challenging for trucking companies, there is one cautionary note from an insurance perspective. “Do not let your guard down,” he says. “Make sure your driver screening process is as robust as it always was and don’t drop your standards. By not performing your due diligence, you start to take additional risks and that will increase the risk of loss.”
1 Trucking HR Canada, “Labour Market Snapshot,” Jan. 2023
2 Trucking HR Canada, “Opening Remarks to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities...” Oct. 17, 2022
3,6 Trucking HR Canada, “Driving Talent to Trucking and Logistics,” Dec. 2021
4 Trucking HR Canada, “Labour Market Snapshot,” Nov. 2022
5 Canadian Truck Alliance, “Solving the truck driver shortage is an investment in Canada,” April 12, 2022