Today's Trucking
opinions Rolf Lockwood

Canadian Trucking Alliance’s Blue Ribbon ‘Tsk’ Force

Posted: August 1, 2014 by Rolf Lockwood

What industry leaders are saying to fleets: “Tsk tsk.”

What industry leaders should hear: “If you want to really fix the driver problem, look deep within yourself then act.”

Who is it that trucking depends on most? I’m talking about the freight world, not the various corners of vocational trucking. And you know what I’m going to say next.

With the possible exception of the people who provide the financial wherewithal to launch the whole thing in the first place, there’s really only one answer.

Drivers.

Whether we’re talking owner-operators or employees, nothing would happen if there wasn’t someone sometimes going through hell to get that load of tightly strapped drywall to the next stage of its journey from factory to market.

All of it for too little money and too much heartache. I’ll hazard a guess and say that for some, owner-operators especially, the situation goes way beyond ‘heartache’ and into the realm of mental health. It’s bad out there, only getting worse.

Frankly, I’m a bit tired of writing about this, and you may well be tired of reading it. But I’ve seen it all and I can say with utter conviction that almost nobody respects drivers enough. Themselves included.

Yes, there are many exceptions, and more of them all the time. But at the heart of things in a lot of fleets both large and small, even in the midst of a so-called shortage, the driver remains a commodity.

You may have heard by now that there’s a move afoot to change things. The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) has formed what it calls a ‘Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage’ and its stated aim is to develop “a coherent direction for moving forward on the issue.”

The CTA task force is made up of people sitting on its board of directors, from across the country. I know a lot of these guys pretty well, count some as friends, and they’re a smart bunch with good intentions. Self-serving intentions of course, but what’s good for them is good for drivers.

So this is all great news, even if it comes awfully late in the day. It’s not as if the ‘shortage’ of qualified drivers is new. It’s not as if legitimate moans and groans haven’t been emanating from thousands of cabs for 10 years or more.

Is this a case of better late than never? Yes, but I’ve already heard a bunch of comments from drivers and owner-ops expressing a predictable skepticism. Sure, sure, they say, where have I heard this before? Words, words, words.

Well, you could hardly expect otherwise, but some of the words in the initial report at least sound right:

“Drivers are the industry’s number one resource, the backbone of the industry. Without them there is no trucking industry. It should not take a crisis to address the situation and there is no guarantee the industry would emerge stronger following a crisis, where it could lose whatever ability it currently has to exercise at least some control over its destiny…

“The Blue Ribbon Task Force is not content, nor does it believe that the right thing to do is to sit back and wait for a crisis. The industry will always be captive to market forces, but it can also take action to help itself and ensure its continued dominance in the freight market. It just cannot do it without drivers. There will be no quick fixes, no magic bullets that will easily solve the industry’s human resources challenges. In the short to medium-term, the situation and its resulting impact on capacity, is unlikely to change. Addressing the driver shortage will require a long, multi-year effort.”

To its credit, the task force report correctly identifies three key compensation issues, and I’m quoting here:

  1. Truck drivers should have an improved ability to predict what their weekly pay is going to be;
  2. Truck driver compensation packages need to be competitive with or better than alternative employment options and more transparent;
  3. Truck drivers should be paid for all the work that they do and earn enough to cover all reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred while on the road for extended periods.

I really do welcome this effort — don’t get me wrong — but I have a few observations to make:

  1. We’re already in crisis; there’s nothing to wait for.
  2. I’d say there’s no driver shortage at all, rather a shortage of jobs fit for qualified drivers.
  3. I think this task force is not aptly named. It should be called the ‘Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Culture of Trucking’.

It’s one thing for the suits to decide on a course of change, quite another to get folks further down the ladder to buy in.

This is a challenge that has to be met from the bottom up.

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