Canada’s trucker shortage is already desperate. Here’s how it’s about to get worse | CBC News
Trucking runs in Mark Sydorchuk’s blood.
His brother is a trucker. His father was a trucker. Ever since his dad let him back up his first big rig in an empty parking lot when he was 13, there was nothing else Sydorchuk wanted to do.
“I couldn’t really reach the pedals,” he said. “It was scary but at the same time awesome. I was in love after that.”
He’s not exaggerating. Just watch the clip below. Everyone should love their job as much as Mark Sydorchuk.
Why trucking desperately needs new blood
Young blood like Mark Sydorchuk is something Canada’s trucking industry desperately needs because it’s facing a serious shortage of qualified drivers that’s only set to get worse.
As of 2018, the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) estimates that shortage could be as high as 22,000 vacant truck driver positions across the country. Those vacancies are expected to swell to 34,000 by 2024, thanks to an inability to recruit enough young people or women to replace aging drivers.
“It’s been described as a demographic tsunami,” said Jon Blackham, the OTA’s director of policy and public affairs.
“Trucking has one of the oldest workforces in the entire economy and, at the same time, there is a declining share of young people willing to get into the industry.”
Cost, U.S. age restrictions are barriers to young people
The fact that few young people seem to be willing to take up the trade might seem counterintuitive. Not only does trucking pay well, salaries range from $44,000 to $110,000, as a job, it also offers those behind the wheel a life of travel where they can get paid to see the world.
To become a qualified driver, students must complete an eight-week course, which costs about $8,000 and grants them a license in the province where they’re registered upon graduation.
While it might sound attractive to someone looking to take a few years off between high school and college or university, very few young people ever sign up to take a course, according to Gus Rahim, the president of the Ontario Truck Driving School, based in London, Ont.
“A lot of the people getting into it are looking at a second career. They’re a little older, anywhere from say 40 to 65 and these are the ones who are coming into the industry now.”
Why money is a barrier for prospective truckers
Rahim said he believes the reason trucking has problems attracting young blood is partly due to the age restrictions in the United States. There, drivers must be at least 21 to haul cargo across state lines. As a precaution, most American shippers want their drivers to be at least 23.
In Canada, where drivers only have to be 18 under the law, that’s a problem. Most truckers who starting their careers cut their teeth on long-haul jobs where crossing U.S. border is common. It means any Canadian who’s 18 has to wait at least three years to work in the United States.
Rahim said the wait is too long for most.
“By the time they go from 18 to 21 a lot of them have already tried careers, they’ve tried something and maybe they’ve stuck with it and it’s very hard to get them to change their mind at that time.”
The other barrier, according to Rahim is cost. Most young people work minimum wage jobs and the $8,000 tuition cost is hard to come by.
In Ontario, where more than half of Canada’s trucking companies are based, prospective students can’t apply for loans under the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to help pay their tuition, something Rahim wants to see the provincial government change.
Why trucking can’t recruit women
The other problem facing trucking is the recruitment of women.
The Ontario Trucking Association said historically, women have made up only three per cent of all truck drivers. More recent estimates put that figure anywhere from five to seven per cent thanks to OTA networking events aimed at recruiting women and raising their profile within the industry.
Still the OTA said the number of women behind the wheel isn’t growing as fast as they would like and the reason for that might lie with women themselves, according to Carole Dore.
“I think it’s because they don’t think they can do it,” she said. “Anybody can do this job, it’s not just a man’s word anymore.”
Dore, a mother of three, worked as a truck driver for 11 years. She got her start driving a school bus for a year, then decided to move up to a bigger ride.
She did mostly local jobs, hauling freight between cities, sometimes taking cargo to Grand Rapids, Michigan or Toledo, Ohio. Her longest trips were 10 to 12 hours, leaving her enough time to see her children every day.
“It was important for me to be there for them,” she said. “I made it home every day.”
Trucking is not always an easy life
Still, women like Dore remain more the exception than the rule when it comes to driving trucks. The reason for might be that it’s not a career for everyone.
Doug Groulx, an Ontario truck driver with 29 years experience on the road, said most people don’t want the job because it takes you away from your family.
“We don’t get Canada day off if it falls on a Monday. You have to go to work,” he said. “Maybe they don’t want to miss out on that.
For Groulx, that isn’t a problem. He has no children and has never been married, but he has plenty of colleagues who are. He said his colleagues depend on strong relationships to stay with their partners.
“I guess you have to work with your partner,” he said. “You have to have that understanding that you’re going to be gone for five days.”
“I wouldn’t call it a hard life but you have to put your time in,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets.”
In other words, trucking isn’t for everybody. Remember the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 25-year-old Mark Sydorchuk? As earnest as he is, even he understands that trucking isn’t always easy.
“It’s demanding. Not many people like that kind of job because you got to sit there for hours and look out the window. It gets boring and lonely at times,” he said. “Some people like the job, some people don’t.”
The problem is we all depend on trucks. Almost everything we own gets shipped by truck. If the industry doesn’t solve it’s driver shortage, then we might have a problem. A problem Sydorchuk believes could be solved easily.
“If loads start paying more, they’ll see more drivers,” he said. “While they’re paying really cheap for loads out there, no-one’s going to want to do the job.”
“They don’t get paid enough.”