Today's Trucking
opinions Rolf Lockwood

The Role of Foreign Workers in Trucking

Posted: August 1, 2014 by Rolf Lockwood

In the midst of all the recent brouhaha about the Royal Bank’s wildly cynical, save-a-buck-at-all-costs hiring practices — and the federal government’s blind approval of them — I think there’s confusion about the role of foreign workers in trucking. There’s no comparison to be made here.

The Royal Bank has been hiring offshore help, albeit indirectly through a contractor, to do work that has always been done and could still be done by Canadians but at a fraction of the cost. The only goal has been to save money. Worse yet, and this is unbelievably insensitive, the Canucks being turfed have apparently been tasked with training their offshore replacements before their employment dries up!

Given the billions of profit dollars this bank produces every year, you’d think there might be a little room for spending what it takes to support Canadians and Canada. Guess not.

The Royal Bank is surely not alone in doing this, but it’s the one that got caught and it’s paying the price. A lame public apology a week after the obligatory initial denial doesn’t wash with me, nor, it seems, with anyone else. Anger continues to grow.

When Canadian trucking outfits hire outside the country, it’s a very different scenario. No doubt there are cases where saving a buck is the motivator, but mostly it’s a simple reason that sends recruiters offshore — there are no Canadians to do the job.

Lord knows there’s been enough written about the so-called driver shortage, and I’m a little reluctant to dive into this murky water yet again. I’m doing so because the Conference Board of Canada (CBOC) recently published a report on the matterUnderstanding the Truck Driver Supply and Demand Gap and Its Implications for the Canadian Economy by Vijay Gill and Alicia Macdonald — and because this past week I had lunch with an HR consultant and my interest in the driver challenge was rekindled.

This comes a year after the Canadian Trucking Alliance launched its Blue Ribbon Task Force to examine our chronic shortage of qualified drivers.

The CBOC described the country’s labor challenge as a “demographic tsunami that will have a profound impact on our society.” It isn’t just an issue for trucking.

As far as I can see, the CBOC report didn’t advance our ­knowledge very much, though it did apply some numbers to the problem. Its stated goal was “to quantify the truck driver supply requirements and the resulting pressure that the for-hire trucking industry will face to attract new drivers. In a business-as-usual scenario where the trucking industry continues to have difficulty in attracting younger workers to long-haul trucking occupations in particular, we find that the driver supply will remain relatively stagnant until 2020. Yet a significant portion of those industries in Canada that are in a growth stage depends on services from the for-hire trucking industry for sourcing materials, delivering goods to and from distribution centres, and delivering their final products to customers. As these industries continue to grow, so too will their demand for trucking services, which will result in a need for an increased supply of drivers.”

Among the important things that report tells us is that the age of the average truck driver has increased more rapidly than the age of the average worker due to fewer young workers entering the industry. But I think most of us knew that.

It also quantified the shortage, saying that the demand for truck drivers will increase through 2020, when the gap between the supply and demand of drivers is expected to be 25,000. This number could exceed 33,000, assuming a lower rate of productivity growth, the CBOC says. Those numbers aren’t new either.

The report concludes that this supply/demand gap could be reduced if the industry contracts, which is unlikely, or if it finds new ways to increase productivity, which is conceivable to a point. More usefully, the CBOC suggests that “a significant improvement in industry working conditions or wages, marketing of the truck driving occupation, and driver training/licensing” would help. To which I say, you bet. I say the same to its next suggestion, namely “a reorganization of trucking activity and supply chains in order to reduce the demand for long-haul drivers.”

Finally, the report’s authors suggest that a change in policy to allow the truck driving occupation to be recognized as a skilled trade would make a difference. I’m not so sure about that one.

In any event, to reiterate my first point, all of this is very ­different from the Royal Bank’s profit grab. For trucking, finding drivers is a matter of survival.

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