By Louise Yako, President and CEO
BC Trucking Association
The BC Trucking Association (BCTA) calls truck drivers “professional drivers” to emphasize that people who drive for a living develop a skill set and pride in their work that sets them apart from those of us who don’t. Whether it gets official recognition as a skilled trade or not, navigating a semi-trailer combination requires not only technical acumen, but also patience, commitment and problem-solving skills. I know because I’ve tried it, and I’ll never possess the right skills.
To mark National Trucking Week, which runs this year from September 1 to 7, BCTA would like to extend sincere thanks to professional drivers across British Columbia and those who work with them and support them at home. Day in and day out, professional drivers deliver the necessities of life and more, including everything from groceries to smart phones, to meet the demands of the communities they service. And they carry out their work so efficiently that few of us ever suffer the want of an item we need simply because a truck arrived late.
Whether we continue to receive that level of service may be in question. The trucking industry needs large numbers of qualified drivers, and soon. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the average age of industry drivers in 2011 was 46. Far fewer young drivers are taking up a job that used to be number one for men in Canada. When you combine growing demand for road transportation services with driver retirements and other factors over the next seven years, projections are that for-hire carriers will be short 25,000 to 33,000 drivers nationwide by 2020.
How can we address such a gap? BCTA and our fellow trucking associations across Canada have been defining and implementing strategies for a number of years, including to support the hiring of skilled immigrants and development of entry-level driver training (including a high school program starting in September 2014 at the NorKam Trades Centre of Excellence in Kamloops).
We can’t miraculously fill those 33,000 seats. To do that will take the cooperation, effort and vision of motor carriers, governments and the public generally, because what it may come down to is respect for the profession and the men and women who choose it.
The trucking industry is recognizing that to attract new candidates, it needs to embed a set of core values into operations and acknowledge that without drivers, the industry can’t exist.
Drivers need predictable weekly pay, competitive compensation packages, and fair recompense for reasonable expenses on the road. Quality of life matters, and carriers can support it by defending a driver’s time and health from uncertain schedules, including avoidable delays at choke points like shippers’ loading docks and terminals.
Looking ahead, support from government and industry for a mandatory entry-level training standard for drivers will increase the profession’s prestige and better define the skill set that qualified drivers must have. Nothing equals on-road experience, but new entrants to the profession and prospective employers should both have confidence that training will start them off strong.
Smart carriers are already implementing strategies to support and retain their drivers, including additional company training, driver wellness programs and incentives for saving fuel (which also has documented safety benefits) and recognition for long service.
Why does the public need to be involved? Professional drivers share the road with vehicles of all types, but driving a big rig is nothing like driving a passenger car. Heavy trucks take longer to get up to speed, are hard to stop once there, and need more room to maneuver.
Professional drivers are trained to deal with the particular requirements of their vehicles. There’s a lot to respect in the skill and presence of mind a professional driver needs to operate his or her truck on heavily congested highways and city truck routes, and the best thing other drivers can do to is give them room – lots of it – and grant them some patience. We are all the ultimate beneficiaries of their work.
Driving is a fine and necessary profession. Kudos during National Trucking Week 2013 to those who practice it safely every day in B.C. and to all those in the industry who work alongside them.
BCTA, a member-based, non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization, is the recognised voice of the provincial motor carrier industry, representing over 1,200 truck and motor coach fleets and over 250 suppliers to the industry. BCTA members operate over 13,000 vehicles, employ 26,000 people, and generate over $2 billion in revenue annually in the province.