Canada’s trucking industry keeps the Canadian economy moving. Without truckers moving goods across this vast country, business would grind to a halt. The industry also generates around $65 billion annually through its economic activities and employs about 450,000 people in this land of 38 million, about 300,000 of which work as truck drivers.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) is a federation of Canada’s provincial trucking associations, collectively representing some 4,500 carriers, owner-operators and industry suppliers. Marco Beghetto is the CTA’s vice president of communications. Transport Security International’s James Careless spoke with him recently about the many major challenges confronting this country’s trucking industry.
Transport Security International: To begin with a general question, what is the overall state of the Canadian trucking industry? How is it doing right now?
Marco Beghetto: From a pure freight market point of view, te industry is doing well from as far as rates go. But that’s because the capacity situation is so dire there simply aren’t enough trucks to meet and service the general demand that exists today due to a number of issues, with the ongoing driver shortage being at the top of the list.
Transport Security International: What is causing the driver shortage?
Marco Beghetto: It is a result of fallout due to COVID-19 with workers being sick. It is a result of the bottlenecks that exist throughout the supply chain. And even before there was any pressure on the supply chain demographically, we were already experiencing a shortage of truck drivers simply because it’s an aging workforce, and not a lot of young people are joining the profession.
Back before COVID-19 there was already a shortage. Now we’re looking at probably 23,000 driver job vacancies, and that number is expected to increase to about 55,000 by the end of 2024.
Transport Security International: Why is it hard to convince young Canadians to become truckers?
Marco Beghetto: Well, it’s a tough job, right? It’s demanding even though it’s well-paying. But frankly, younger generations have traditionally not wanted to be truck drivers due to a variety of factors. And that is a mindset that we have to change by doing a better job of attracting young people to the industry.
We’re doing that through a social media campaign and website called “Choose to Truck” (https://choosetotruck.ca/) that we started last year. We had 20 million impressions in the first six months of the campaign and received some pretty positive feedback, so that’s a good start. But there are things that the Canadian trucking industry has to do to change its image, to become more diverse, flexible, and willing to accommodate a whole different array of lifestyles that newer generations expect.
What we’re trying to do with Choose to Truck is plant the seeds in newer generations that this industry is not your grandfather’s industry. It is well paying. It is flexible. And it is accommodating its employees’ needs.
Our central message is that good Canadian trucking employers are worth working for. They will meet the expectations and all the different nuances that young people expect from a career opportunity. And we’re trying to make sure that that message is being delivered through social media to younger people who might not have otherwise considered this industry.
Transport Security International: What have governments in Canada done to help the trucking industry to date, and what do they still need to do?
Marco Beghetto: From a safety point of view, we have made a lot of progress working with the government. Together, we have instituted things like mandatory entry level training, plus electronic onboard recorders that basically do away with the archaic paper logbook system, making it easier to track and report allowable truck driver hours.
Meanwhile, we need government support to finance driver training for new hires, and possibly a wage subsidy program to support new entrants as they join the industry. We also want changes to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, to seamlessly allow long-term residency for people from other countries who want to become professional truck drivers in Canada.
Transport Security International: There’s a concern both in Europe and the United States that there aren’t enough secured overnight rest areas for drivers. Is this the case in Canada?
Marco Beghetto: Yes, I think it’s the case around the world. In Canada, the lack of secure rest areas is a problem that exists mostly in more remote parts of provinces. We’re working with our governments on trying to find secure, safe rest areas. And that’s an open dialogue that each provincial association has had with their respective provinces.
Transport Security International: So how easy is it for Canadian truckers these days to get across the border with the United States and back?
Marco Beghetto: From a land border point of view, there really isn’t much difference compared to pre-COVID, provided you’re vaccinated and considering the vaccination mandates of both countries.
Transport Security International: Earlier in 2022, Canada’s so-called Freedom Convoy caught world attention by occupying the capital city of Ottawa. The media played up the protest as being driven by truckers, but major trucking associations such as the CTA did not back the protest at all. How has that protest affected your image and standing with Canadians in general?
Marco Beghetto: I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think it has meant much at all.
You are right. We publicly distanced ourselves from the protest, and we made sure people knew that the vast majority of truck drivers did in fact do what they were asked to do, namely getting vaccinated and continuing to do their jobs as they’ve always done.
For the most part, I think the public recognized that the majority of the industry had stepped up at the onset of the pandemic and were heroes because they did the work that needed to be done in getting essential safety products to the Canadians who needed them.
By the end of it, I think it was pretty common knowledge that it wasn’t a truckers’ protest. It was just a protest in general, which was separate from the industry; and during that time, pretty much our entire workforce was on the road delivering products.
Transport Security International: What other issues are of concern to the CTA these days?
Marco Beghetto: There is a problem with the deliberate misclassification of truck drivers by some employers. What you have in this situation are employee truck drivers that are being misrepresented or misapplied as owner-operators or independent contractors. It’s a tax avoidance scheme where the employer is able to avoid all the necessary rules and regulations pertaining to labor such as Workers’ Compensation and other taxes, leaving drivers unprotected if they get hurt or ill on the job.
This problem, which we in the industry call ‘Driver Inc.’ – due to employed drivers being forced to act as if they are independent companies – creates an unlevel playing field with compliant, law-abiding companies who comply with labor rules and regulations and pay their fair share of taxes.
Transport Security International: Speaking of fuel costs, how are rising fuel prices affecting the Canadian trucking industry?
Marco Beghetto: They are having an impact, like all other sorts of inflationary pressures. But trucking companies for the most part have fuel surcharge programs which have been established ahead of time. So, the rising cost of fuel is passed onto customers through a surcharge.
Transport Security International: Clearly the Canadian trucking industry is dealing with a lot of challenges these days. Is it all doom and gloom?
Marco Beghetto: (laughing) Not at all. I don’t want to give the impression that things are dire I mean, the fact of the matter is that the industry is busy. It’s working nonstop 24 7. It’s just the fact that, in order to meet the demands of the 21st century economy going forward, the Canadian trucking industry has to solve the driver shortage. That’s the issue, which is why the CTA, provincial trucking associations and trucking companies are doing everything we can to work with governments to find solutions for a new generation of Canadians.
It’s simple: If the Canadian economy is going to keep growing, we need enough truckers to deliver the freight.
The Toronto-based Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) is a federation of provincial trucking associations representing a broad cross-section of the trucking industry – around 4,500 carriers, owner-operators and industry suppliers. CTA represents the industry’s viewpoint on national and international policy as well as regulatory and legislative issues that impact trucking. The group also has offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Montreal and Moncton, Cananda. They can be found at www.cantruck.ca.