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Industry faces time of change: Laskowski

Posted: May 1, 2017 by John G. Smith

BANFF, AB – From discussions about driver training to negotiations around the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada’s trucking industry is facing a time of significant change. And the Canadian Trucking Alliance is in the midst of it all.

“Is this our future?” president Stephen Laskowski asked, pointing to the image of an Amazon drone during a wide-ranging address to the Alberta Motor Transport Association. If nothing else, he referred to it as a wake-up call about how quickly things can change.

But with change comes opportunity. U.S. President Donald Trump has raised questions about the North American Free Trade Agreement and softwood lumber, but this might offer an opportunity to find ways to make the border more efficient or address the moves of empty trailers, he said.

Laskowski also suggested part of the alliance’s role will be to help educate the industry’s customers about challenges such as the rising cost of equipment and a low Canadian dollar.

Beginning next week the group will begin to publish wholesale and retail fuel prices as well as carbon pricing, which it expects Canada to introduce even if the U.S. does not. Existing models for fuel surcharges can ensure the supply chain understands the total cost of fuel, Laskowski added.

The alliance president also stressed that a mandate for Electronic Logging Devices will help to clean up the industry, and help to ensure drivers don’t simply jump to carriers that are willing to be creative with logbook entries. He believes they will be mandated and enforced in Canada by late 2019 or early 2020. The U.S. will mandate them as of this December.

But with the good comes a challenge. Laskowsi also stressed that the closer tracking of Hours of Service will increase the focus on traffic congestion, which already costs the Greater Toronto Area about $11 billion per year. The answer for that could involve investments in infrastructure, but that will require sources of revenue. If those sources come in the form of tolls, the alliance wants them to be controlled and invested into choke points in the traffic network.

Then there’s the question of where future drivers will come from. The echo generation aged 25 to 34 represents the largest share of Canada’s workforce, but just 15% of drivers, he said. Immigrants only make up 20%. And in each case, trucking faces increasing competition for labor, as other sectors look to address challenges of their own.

Something has to change in the chase for labor, Laskowski said. The agricultural sector offered a traditional pool of candidates, but it is shrinking. Younger employees are also more focused on job opportunities that allow them to come home at night.

Laskowski stressed the need for Mandatory Entry Level Training, which is being introduced in Ontario this July, to help raise the industry’s image of professionalism. So too does the National Occupational Classification need to change to reflect the skills of being a driver, he said, adding that such a change could promote the immigration of future drivers. The existing classifications will be revisited in three years.

The alliance is approaching carriers that have been using Temporary Foreign Workers to see how they could be helped in the transition to permanent residents.

Many industry members are looking to the government to solve issues around the driver shortage, but there will be a price to pay, he said. If driving is to be recognized as a true profession, carriers will need to make investments in things like entry-level training.

It’s a matter of investing for the future.

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