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the Driver Shortage, and Trucking HR Canada’s Recruitment and Retention Roadmap

Canada’s driver shortage is still looming on the horizon and there is no easy solution when it comes to filling empty seats.

Still, could part of the solution be in the recruiting and retention of Indigenous workers of Western Canada?

The Truck Driver Supply and Demand Gap, published in 2016 by Canadian Pacific Consulting Services (CPCS), estimates that the driver supply and demand gap will reach a minimum of 34,000 drivers by 2024 and rise from there. This has driven the trucking industry to re-evaluate its recruiting and retention strategies – and to understand the populations with potential to fill these seats.

In Private Motor Carrier, we have explored several potential demographics over the past few issues – from people immigrating to Canada to become dedicated drivers (Summer 2019), veterans using their honed skillsets to pursue post-military life (Fall 2019), to an ever-growing network of women working to change the perception of trucking as a whole (Winter 2019). In this issue of PMC, we will be taking a look at a group of people still largely untapped: Indigenous Peoples, particularly Indigenous youth.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2016, 1,673,785 Indigenous Peoples identified their heritage on the census in Canada, accounting for 4.9% of Canada’s total population. This was up from 3.8% in 2006 and 2.8% in 1996, due to both natural growth and the fact that more Canadians are identifying with their heritage, however, the two top trends reported by the census were that Indigenous Peoples are both young in age and growing in number.

This is a huge contrast to findings from The Labour Market Information Interim Report, published by Trucking HR Canada in September 2019, that only 9.5% of truckers are younger than 30 years old, 27.8% are younger than 40 years old, and 32% of truck drivers are 55 years or older. Alarmingly, 6.6% of truck drivers are already 65 years or older, meaning 20,000 are eligible to retire soon.

This shortage won’t only impact those behind the wheel. Trucking HR Canada has stated that the shortage will impact all areas of the industry, “including dispatchers, senior managers, technicians, mechanics and more.”

As part of the strategy to address the looming shortage, Trucking HR Canada released Indigenous Recruitment & Retention: A Roadmap For Canada’s Trucking And Logistics Industry in May 2018. This report explored areas of interest between potential Indigenous drivers and the trucking field. They interviewed Indigenous community representatives and workers in the trucking profession on their current industry perspective, then categorizing the results into four areas:

  • assumptions about the industry,
  • barriers to entry and employment in the industry,
  • what Indigenous Peoples look for in careers and jobs, and
  • perceived opportunities for Indigenous Peoples in trucking and logistics.

Assumptions – and misconceptions – about the industry have been noted for years. A 2013 report, Understanding the Truck Driver Supply and Demand Gap and Its Implications For the Canadian Economy – published by The Conference Board of Canada states, “There is a generally inaccurate view of the life of a driver and an unfair stigma of the ‘typical’ driver.”

Scott Rea, President of US trucking consultation company AvatarFleet, said in a 2019 interview, “There is still somewhat of an ‘old-school knights of the road’ mentality, when it comes to the industry.”

Trucking HR Canada’s Indigenous Recruitment & Retention report notes that the misconceptions circle largely around safety concerns (physical nature of the work, mechanical equipment), the lifestyle not being family friendly (with perceived extended periods of time on the road), a lack of variety of work, however, the idea of dual citizenship (ease of crossing US/CAN border) was viewed as a benefit.

Within the group that talked about Indigenous perceptions of barriers to entry and employment in the industry, perceived barriers included the lack of awareness about the range of career opportunities in the trucking industry, a lack of awareness of position requirements, insurance rates, the difficult to acquire mandatory driving experience needed to maintain a position, and health concerns particularly the high prevalence of diabetes among Indigenous population in contrast with the trucking lifestyle.”

On the other hand, the Indigenous Recruitment & Retention report observed that the group came to the conclusion that Indigenous Peoples are looking for good pay and benefits regular hours (Monday to Friday), locations close to home, flexible work opportunities, opportunities for training, development and promotion, work-life balance, culturally diverse and sensitive workplaces, and mentorship. The discussion observed that Indigenous Peoples were more likely to enter the industry if they have a family member (direct relation) or community member already employed within the industry (meeting the mentorship desire) and if they can pursue becoming self-employed (through becoming owner-operators).

Where does this leave the industry?

Trucking HR Canada’s report recommends four ways companies looking to target this key demographic can achieve success: community outreach, recruitment and hiring, orientation and onboarding, and training resources. All four categories together will offer more of a chance to target and retain the Indigenous population.

Community outreach, done well, builds trusting relationships in the communities and in turn, cultivate interest in a company and the industry at large. Trucking HR Canada recommends that companies choose specific communities to focus on, before taking part in community activities, getting involved in local issues, networking by contacting local organizations, and building familiarity among community members.

Trucking HR Canada’s recruitment and hiring approach revolves around the idea of inclusivity and understanding – perspectives, access to technology, opportunities, and cultural differences are barriers that a company will need to consider when targeting the Indigenous demographic. They recommend collaborating with other Indigenous training programs, offering bursaries and scholarships to students with interest in the trucking industry.

Trucking HR Canada puts emphasis on face-to-face communications, like job fairs; print media, including community newsletters or direct mail; broadcast media, such as radio or television; and influencers, such as community leaders and career counsellors (which can be even more effective with successful community outreach). They recommend that companies should be personal and “easy to do business with, be culturally competent and bias aware, and support candidates’ decision-making process.”

One strategy recommends that companies review their handbooks and materials for readability and clear language, as English or French may not be an Indigenous employee’s first language, and taking time to help employees understand any administration they haven’t been exposed to before, such as electronic banking, insurance/benefits terms, or company policies. The onboarding transition may be helped by providing a coach, having hands-on experience, addressing gaps in qualification, providing additional training, or connecting them with a trusted employee to assist them with questions.

“Indigenous Peoples are the fastest growing demographic in Canada,” says Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada, in a 2019 press release, “In light of the current labour shortages industry employers are facing, implementing innovative recruitment and retention initiatives to reach out to these communities is not only the right thing to do, it is a business imperative.”

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