Canadian trucking industry struggles to attract next generation of drivers

After 40 years as a truck driver, Jack Fielding says it's easier to name the places in North America where he hasn't been than the ones he has.

MONTREAL — After 40 years as a truck driver, Jack Fielding says it’s easier to name the places in North America where he hasn’t been than the ones he has.

And after driving five million kilometres, the 57 year-old still enjoys the freedom of the road.

“For the most part, there’s nobody looking over my shoulder telling me what to do,” says Fielding, who hails from McKellar, Ont. “I have an assignment and I’m left to do it at my own pace and how I think it should be done.”

But as Fielding and thousands like him near retirement age, the industry is struggling to recruit young people who share his enthusiasm for the job.

This means the industry is facing a looming labour shortage that could reach 48,000 drivers by 2024, according to the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

The average age of a truck driver is over 47 — up from 45 in 2013 — and almost 30 per cent of the driving force is 55 or over, which makes it one of the oldest workforces in Canada, according to the organization’s president.

“Tens of thousands of them are nearing retirement and we’re not getting anywhere near our commensurate share of new drivers into the business,” says David Bradley.

There are multiple reasons for the looming shortage, but many believe the lifestyle simply isn’t attractive to a younger generation.

Fielding, for example, usually works 10-14 days straight, with three days off between trips. Schedules are not set in advance, and drivers often work 12 hours or more a day.

“You’re not home with your friends on Friday nights having parties,” he says. “If you have a family you might miss out on birthdays and things like that.”

Bradley says this makes it harder to attract younger people or those with families, who tend to place a higher emphasis on work-life balance than older generations.

It may also explain why the industry struggles to recruit women, who make up only about four to six per cent of the driving population.

Nadine Gauthier, who spent six years driving shipping containers in and around the Montreal area, is trying to change that.

The 43-year old, now a supervisor for Simard Transport, also works on behalf of Quebec’s trucking association to convince girls and women that trucking isn’t just a “man’s world.”

She says that while the first women “pioneers” may have been given a hard time, the industry has become very welcoming to women.

“I sincerely think men like having women in their teams and at the heart of the company,” she notes. “It brings a new dynamic, and men are very respectful of that.”

The average salary for a truck driver was listed as $40,728 in 2011, although Bradley says long-haul truck drivers can easily make $70-80,000 a year.

However, they’re often paid by the mile, which means their income can fluctuate based on unexpected delays or traffic. They also tend to work longer hours than the rest of the population.

It’s also difficult to hire immigrants, except under the Temporary Foreign Worker program, since truck driving is not considered a skilled occupation and drivers therefore aren’t eligible for most federal economic immigration programs.

Bradley says the current economic downturn in Canada — particularly in the oil industry — has alleviated the shortage for the moment.

But he believes long-term solutions are needed to ensure people who enter the profession stay there, instead of viewing it as a stop-gap between jobs.

The industry is working to change the classification of truck driving to semi-skilled or skilled, which Bradley says is key to getting more resources for training and attracting career-oriented candidates.

Provinces are also working on implementing their own regulations and mandatory training standards.

In its own bid to address the shortage, the Quebec government has introduced a training program for 17-and-18 year old wannabe truckers.

Students are partnered with companies that agree to give them internships at the end of the four-month course, which often lead to permanent jobs.

One recent graduate, 20-year-old Anthony Boisvert, was hired straight out of school and already has two years under his belt as a long-distance trucker for Groupe Robert.

He loves the job, including the 60-80 hour workweeks and stretches of four to five days away from home, but realizes it isn’t for everyone.

“It’s more a passion than a job,” he says.

Bradley says that although individual companies are looking at scheduling, wages and recruitment strategies to tackle the shortage, change is slow to come.

“This is a fragmented, competitive industry, and it’s hard to turn it on a dime,” he says.

Fielding, who estimates he has five years of driving left, can’t quite figure out why more young people don’t seem to want to take over behind the wheel.

“Where (else) can you get paid to see North America, to experience things in life?” he says. “I think it would be a great job for somebody just starting out.”

Just Posted

Walk raises awareness, money for overdose awareness in Red Deer

More than 90 people gathered in Red Deer to break the stigma… Continue reading

Ponoka RCMP looking for missing man

Ponoka RCMP is asking the public to help find a man who… Continue reading

Woman killed in collision west of Rocky Mountain House

A 42-year-old woman is dead after a two-vehicle collision in Clearwater County… Continue reading

Rough camper “tree house” found hidden in Red Deer woods

“This took a bit of work,” says man who discovered it

Central Alberta has one less peacekeeper with death of Nobel Prize-winning vet

The late Wayne Coubrough and Wayne Bevis helped diffuse tensions in the Middle East

WATCH: Snakes, lizards and more at the Western Canadian Reptile Expo in Red Deer

The 10th annual Western Canadian Reptile Expo is this weekend in Red… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Tuesday and Sept. 3 The Tony Connelly Singers provide an opportunity to… Continue reading

Regina police officer charged with impaired driving after hit-and-run

Regina police say a member of the force has been charged after… Continue reading

Groups ready campaign to help young voters identify ‘fake news’ in election

OTTAWA — Samantha Reusch is aiming to help young Canadians identify misinformation… Continue reading

Trade to dominate Trudeau-Trump bilateral meeting during G7 summit

BIARRITZ, France — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived Friday for this weekend’s… Continue reading

Brazil military begins operations to fight Amazon fires

RIO DE JANEIRO — Backed by military aircraft, Brazilian troops on Saturday… Continue reading

Economic storm clouds hovering over Trump and global leaders

BIARRITZ, France — Under the threatening clouds of a global economic slowdown,… Continue reading

‘Red flag laws’ offer tool for preventing some gun violence

After a white supremacist discussed plans on Facebook for a mass shooting… Continue reading

Hong Kong police and protesters clash, ending violence lull

Hong Kong protesters threw bricks and gasoline bombs at police, who responded… Continue reading

Most Read