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Market conditions slow down shortage, but won't stop it: Experts
TORONTO -- The term "truck driver," as defined in any statistical profile, covers a lot of ground. Pinpointing the exact number in Canada is difficult because of the variety of sectors in which drivers work. The Canadian Human Resources Council (CTHRC) estimated a few years ago we'd need 400,000 drivers over the next 10 years. Extending that timeline even further, we'll probably need more by their count. But how much worse is the long-haul situation really going to get when you factor the changing landscape of trucking and any number of market curveballs that have yet to be pitched to the industry? While a few overheated markets are surly spiking wages, for the most part the industry's behavior towards pay rates, especially for owner-ops, hasn't changed radically enough to signify a major shortage in the short-term.

Freight isn't being left on docks these days, but that
doesn't mean a capacity crunch isn't in the cards.
"There have been phony driver shortages at times over the years," says Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) boss David Bradley. "What's the definition of a driver shortage? Well, it should be when freight is left at the dock, which really isn't happening right now." But as detailed in the accompanying feature, the demographics for this country are bleak. The largest group of male Class 1 license holders in 1997 was between 35 and 44 years old. Those guys are 10 years older now and the number of men under 35 is shrinking rapidly. On the surface, the demand for drivers in the hundreds of thousands seems realistic. But the next chapter of trucking's story has yet to be written and economic shifts, operational changes, and future regulations could put a spin on driver shortage projections. The introduction of LCVs in all sorts of lanes across North America, for example, will increase industry capacity while reducing the need for drivers. It's also possible that if the Canadian dollar remains high for the foreseeable future, many of those dried-up southbound lanes won't return, lessening demand for long-haul operators. In reaction, a return to a hub-and-spoke distribution system and more regional coastal trucking centered on Asian-driven drayage demand could attract a whole new crop of drivers -- who get to go home at night and wouldn't ever have considered the job otherwise. Further industry consolidation, a renaissance of rail, as well as more intermodal and short-sea shipping could also bite into long-haul demand. Says Scott Johnston, president of Yanke Group of Companies in Saskatoon: "We have to remember that the marketplace is not static. It will continue to change as we watch the Hershey plant move to Tijuana, Mexico, and we buy another container chassis for [export] to China. "We will continue to see manufacturing off-shore; products will be more readily sourced elsewhere. Trucking will become more regionalized and less transcontinental." Not counting immigration, changes in industry attitude could also affect future labor capacity. Marketing to women as well as changing insurance policies so that high-school students without post-secondary ambitions could be targeted right away might also make a small difference.

Market shifts in sectors could affect future labor capacity,
but likely not too drastically, industry insiders say.
Additionally, a comprehensive apprenticeship and intra-industry training strategy could produce skilled people out of those formerly deemed too inexperienced by carriers expecting road-ready drivers to show up at the door. All that said, each of these factors -- even combined -- will likely alter the capacity situation only slightly. The fact of the matter is that the science of demographics is clearly about to deal the ­trucking industry a really rotten hand. Plus, it can't be ignored that the vast majority of young people in this country simply have too many choices more appetizing than hauling freight. "Twenty-five years from now," predicts Johnston, "there will still be people in the trucking business, still with un-staffed trucks, and still trying to [recruit] in an industry that is no longer attractive to young people based on the environment they've grown up in." -- Be sure to check out this week's online feature, As the World Churns --the second in our three-part series examining the demographic impact on Canada's impending driver shortage.
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