CTA report tackles driver shortage questions, solutions

by Canadian Shipper

OTTAWA, Ont. — The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) has released a new report focusing on the shortage of qualified commercial drivers, touting it as “arguably the most comprehensive and honest” attempt to tackle both questions surrounding the shortage as well as solutions for fixing the problem.

The CTA’s board of directors has endorsed the report from the CTA Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage, a group established in 2011 to provide leadership on what many carriers say is the industry’s greatest long-term challenge but where little consensus has emerged in terms of finding solutions to the problem.

While the report highlights “systemic issues” behind the shortage – such as driver demographics, public perceptions of the occupation, an unpopular lifestyle, not being deemed a skilled occupation, and regulations – it also holds up a mirror to the industry and attempts to incite a national dialogue within the transportation community. CTA says the report purposefully does not shy away from discussing some of the more contentious issues linked to the driver shortage, including compensation (which the report says “is inescapably the overriding issue” that needs to be resolved) and the need for organized immigration strategies.

The report cites the “traditional ‘piece work’ pay system” as one of the key reasons for the driver shortage, explaining that it “places the burden of inefficiencies of the freight system created by others onto the backs of drivers” and states that compensation packages for truck drivers – especially long-haul operators – “are no longer competitive with other industries” competing with trucking for a share of the shrinking labour market pool.

While the report acknowledges that an hourly pay system may be a “relevant consideration” in some segments of the industry where driving is the sole function or in short-haul/city P&D operations, it is not a solution for the industry at large. The “reality is that drivers do inevitably arrive at some sort of per hour calculation of what they are paid,” the report says. “Carriers must be competitive with each other. The key is not necessarily how drivers are paid, but how much they are paid.” At the same time, the report says the industry needs to do a better job compensating drivers for additional work they do as well as make pay packages more transparent in order to help drivers predict what their pay will be from week to week.

A key feature of the report is a core values statement by the Blue Ribbon Task Force to “guide the industry in the development of an action plan now and its efforts in the future.” According to the task force, “industry leaders need to make a strong statement demonstrating to current and future drivers that we are serious about coming to grips with the issues that underpin the driver shortage.”

In addition to demographics, compensation, and driver quality of life, driver qualification is also identified as one of the key underpinnings of the shortage. To address that, the core values contain the recommendation that “a minimum standard of entry level apprenticeship or apprenticeship-like truck driver training should be mandatory” and there should also be a program of “ongoing training and/or certification” throughout a driver’s career.

The report concedes there is merit – at least in the short-term – in the argument that a driver shortage is good for the industry in that it creates tightness in capacity which in turn places upward pressure on freight rates. The report acknowledges “there will be no quick fixes, no magic bullets” and that “in the short- and medium-term, the situation and its resulting impact on capacity is unlikely to change.” However, the report states that in the longer-term the capacity imbalance is not sustainable and that “the combination of a shrinking labour pool and economic growth will, at some point in the future, create a situation where the industry will not be able to meet the standards of service that have been the hallmark of trucking’s rise” to dominance.

The report goes on to state that that drivers are the industry’s number one resource, declaring, “Without them there is no industry.”

Furthermore, the report states that the trucking industry should not look to other groups to solve its own labour problems. “The onus for creating solutions lies with the carriers – the entities that hire, fire, determine what and how to pay drivers; who price their service and deal with their customers; and who are ultimately responsible for their businesses and for ensuring they have the people to do the work.” Other stakeholders, such as customers, associations and government, also have roles to play but “will be of only limited assistance until the carriers first take action themselves.”

CTA CEO David Bradley says that addressing the driver shortage will require a long, multi-year effort. “The Blue Ribbon Task Force is providing the necessary leadership and has scoped out a coherent direction that the CTA board has now endorsed,” he said. “But, the report is not the final word on the matter; it is the beginning of a long journey. Ultimately, it is market forces and how all motor carriers and their customers respond which will determine how the issue is resolved.”

To obtain a full copy of the report, e-mail Marco.Beghetto@ontruck.org.

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