By Brian Dunn

The trucking and rail industries face a similar dilemma as the shipping industry with an ageing workforce and a lot of unfilled positions. The Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (Trucking HR Canada) published a labour market information study last year called “Beyond the Wheel.” The study revealed that roughly 18 per cent of Canada’s 197,000 Class 1 truck drivers are 55 years or older which means that over the next ten years, the trucking sector could be losing close to 20 per cent of its workforce. Another 27 per cent are between the ages of 45 and 54. In terms of unfilled positions, there were 1,747 vacancies among company truck drivers, or 46 per cent of all unfilled positions within those companies, and 1,234 unfilled jobs for owner/operator truck drivers, representing 33 per cent of all unfilled positions. By comparison, the percentages of unfilled jobs in other divisions such as dispatchers, supervisors and mechanics, were under two per cent.

By 2020, according to the Conference Board of Canada, there will be a shortage of between 25,000 and 33,000 new drivers, or 14 per cent of the total trucking population. With $17 billion in GDP directly tied to the for-hire trucking industry, there is little question a driver shortage of this size is a threat to the health and competiveness of the Canadian economy, and is an issue we should start thinking about, the Conference Board concluded.

In terms of how difficult it is to recruit new drivers, 59 per cent of respondents said it was difficult or very difficult to fill vacancies for Class1 drivers. Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada, comments that “Right now, we are focusing on the recommendations of the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, which is to improve training.”

After the Conference Board numbers were released, the trucking industry came out with new research on how the industry is perceived by Canadian youth and identifies the features of successful programs which could attract the industry’s next generation of employees. The research, entitled “Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Drivers: Attracting Canada’s Youth to Opportunities in Trucking” was based on the results of extensive focus groups, site visits, online surveys and interviews with high school students and educators alike. “The researchers found that Canada’s youth have a relatively positive view of the trucking industry and are attracted by many of the benefits offered by industry careers,” said Tamara Miller, Trucking HR Canada’s Director, Programs and Services. “This data can be used to refine messages which target youth. A related analysis of school-to-work programs can also be used to guide initiatives that will build bridges between the school system and careers in trucking”

The research also offered case studies that explore already-successful school-to-work programs such as Ontario’s Bramalea Secondary School Truck and Coach Program, Manitoba’s Entry Level Professional Truck Driver Training Program, and SAIT Polytechnic’s School of Transportation in Calgary. In addition, the website is linked to the Trucking HR Canada website which lists career opportunities in the trucking industry, Ms. Splinter pointed out. “Our priority is to have the occupation recognized as a skilled trade to attract new entrants,” she added. “All industries are facing shortages, but trucking crosses all of them, including agriculture, mining, forestry and oil and gas, to name a few.”

Canada’s rail industry has similar challenges to deal with. According to the Railway Association of Canada (RAC), which represents the main rail companies, the industry estimates it will hire approximately 15,000 new workers during the next three to five years due to retirements, shortages in traditional transportation skills and competition for a dwindling workforce, which has resulted in the railways reviewing their hiring and training practices. To address this issue, railways have started to look for new and innovative ways to recruit and train future employees and are making a special effort to attract Aboriginal talent.

Research indicates that in the past decade, the Aboriginal population grew at a faster rate than the non-Aboriginal population, at 45 per cent versus eight per cent. This makes the Aboriginal community the youngest and fastest growing segment of the Canadian population. For the railways, this significant Aboriginal presence may represent an opportunity to meet current and future labour and skills requirements.

About two years ago, RAC ran a campaign in conjunction with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRDC) called “Your Life on Track” that targeted Aboriginals. The campaign profiles a range of careers in the rail industry. It explains the responsibilities of each position, working conditions and hours and starting salary. At the low end of the scale with a starting salary of $35,000, is a rail traffic controller which can progress up to $70,000. At the high end is a locomotive engineer with a starting salary of between $80,000-$90,000.

There are several colleges that offer a railway conductor program and a number apprenticeship programs recognized provincially or nationally, namely for diesel mechanics, industrial machinists, industrial electricians, millwrights and pipefitters, among others. For those not interested in working on the railroad, there are other opportunities in information technology, sales and marketing, customer service and human resources to name a few.

“Traditionally, rail never conducted large recruitment campaigns as people came to the industry because they had a family member or neighbour in the business or through word of mouth,” explained Colleen Walsh, Director, Workforce development at RAC. “But now there is a large demand for workers as employees approach retirement.”

RAC conducted a study last year on the perception young people had of the rail industry. Many never considered a career in rail, but changed their mind once they realized what a career in the industry would be like, said Ms. Walsh. “It became a serious consideration as a real career choice. Right now, there’s a shortage of conductors (at a starting salary of between $45,000-$60,000) and it will continue for the next several years.”

Between 2014-2017, RAC’s main focus will be to rebrand its website and use it to “develop a pipeline of quality graduate candidates.” And here’s an incentive. According to HRDC, transportation officers and controllers will be among the most in-demand jobs between now and 2020, with 34 per cent of all posts unfilled.