In September, the Canadian Trucking Alliance, the country’s national trucking group, held National Trucking Week, a celebration of the trucking industry that recognizes the important contributions made by the 400,000 Canadian men and women who keep the country’s freight—including logs and lumber, of course—moving.
That sounds like a lot of drivers, but there is, in fact, a growing need for more truck drivers, especially in Canada’s forest industry.
The issue of the Canadian forest industry needing more logging truck drivers is not a new one—but it has gained more urgency, post-COVID, as logging contractors sometimes have to scramble to find drivers and trucks to move wood from logging sites.
In fall 2022, Angela Splinter, CEO of Trucking HR Canada, introduced a report to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities about anticipated labour shortages in the Canadian transportation sector.
“Even before the pandemic, the driver shortage was threatening growth,” she said in the report.
“In 2020, Trucking HR Canada estimated that the driver shortage was costing the truck transportation industry as much as $3.1 billion in lost revenues every year.
“For example, the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) estimates that the truck driver shortage is costing their industry about $450 million in lost business. In terms of underlying causes, our research suggests that safety concerns, high upfront training costs, work-life balance, and environmental concerns are some of the reasons.”
Transportation costs can account for up to one-third of a forest company’s total production costs, noted FPAC President and CEO Derek Nighbor, in support of Trucking HR Canada’s efforts to address the driver shortage.
“Efficient and reliable trucking services are essential to our business, so it’s important that challenges in Canada’s trucking and logistics industry are well understood and addressed,” said Nighbor.
Splinter noted that retirements are a factor, too, in the report, “with 35 per cent of our truck drivers being 55 and older, compared to 22 per cent in all sectors. Our industry also has some of the lowest representation of women and youth—each group accounting for under four per cent of our truck drivers.
“What are some considerations to help address this?” she asked, in the report.
There continue to be specific concerns: in the first quarter of 2023 the vacancy rate among Canadian truck drivers was 7.9 per cent—with 17,640 vacant positions across Canada.
The labour supply forecasting model projects that about 7,300 drivers will have retired in 2022 alone.
Add to that, an estimated 27,000 additional drivers will leave the profession each year for reasons other than retirement.
Considering the importance of the forest industry in Canada, it’s clear the industry could benefit from recruiting more women to drive logging trucks—but it can be a challenge to secure positions in this typically male dominated occupation.
But training is available. For example, Gennaro Transport Training out of Alberta has some courses specifically designed for women. One program, Alberta Government Supporting Women in Commercial Trucking Careers, has earmarked $3 million to help support women who are seeking job opportunities in the transportation sector. This funding aims to provide women with new skills to achieve success in the industry through a combination of individual Class 1 driver’s licence training, program development and the promotion of new career choices in transportation.
There are also some highly recommended training programs in B.C.
A BC Forest Safety Council newsletter describes the experience of Dorothy Teichroeb, a professional log truck driver based in Vanderhoof, B.C., who has been hauling logs for three years. She received all of her training with the E and R Professional Driving Centre located in Vanderhoof, and recommended them highly.
Driving a loaded logging truck on resource roads can be much different than paved highways, so a mentor is helpful for everyone’s safety. As Teichroeb points out, just to have “professional” written on her driver’s license did not give her the training she needed for driving off-highway.
Like many new logging truck drivers, she gives a lot of the credit to her employer and her mentor (her brother, in her case) for her hands-on training following getting her licence. Teichroeb credits her mentors for helping “smooth the road” with help for everything from throwing wrappers, fixing air lines, to how to come around a switchback. She worked with Blue Valley Enterprises in Vanderhoof a lot, and the other drivers have been incredibly helpful, she says, and after a while, become family out there.
“I’m there to get the job done as safely and as smoothly as possible,” she says. “The hours are incredibly long and nights are short so safety is a huge part. I have made many new friends and I enjoy my job.”
Logging and Sawmilling Journal interviewed Tiara Seitz who owns her own truck and has been a log hauler for 22 years and still loves the lifestyle, which she says may not be for everyone. She tries to get eight hours of sleep before her 1 a.m. start. On a good day, she’s back home at noon or early afternoon. Then there’s maybe some truck maintenance to do, along with household chores and family time before the cycle repeats. On weekends, sometimes a day will also be needed for truck maintenance.
Tiara credits her longevity in the business to the people she has worked for, and the flexibility of her son Spencer and daughter Delayla, who spent many hours with her in the truck.
When Tiara got a truck with a sleeper everyone remembers that day. Not surprisingly, Spencer wanted to be a truck driver at an early age, but Mom wanted him to complete high school, which he did along with some mechanics training. Now Spencer, at age 26, owns a number of logging trucks and his sister is also involved with the forest industry. Tiara still owns Woodrow Trucking in Lower Nicola, B.C. and is not planning on retiring as long as she still enjoys driving. Her goal is to encourage more women to get involved as truck drivers, which she says has improved compared to when she started.
Dustin Meierhofer, RPF, Director of Transportation Safety for the BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC), says the B.C.
forest industry recognizes that log hauling is a critical component of the supply chain. Given this, industry members in partnership with the BCFSC have been working to enhance recruitment, training, and retention within the log hauling sector. This includes the development of a strategic plan to address current and future needs of the industry. A key component of the plan has been the development of a Professional Industry Driver Training Program (PID). The program identifies the specialized skills, knowledge and attributes of a Professional Industry Driver and Professional Log Truck Driver in British Columbia. It also provides tools to assist employers with meeting their responsibility to ensure workers are qualified and competent as required by regulations.
BCFSC has partnered with the College of New Caledonia to deliver five such programs in Vanderhoof, Quesnel, Prince George, Mackenzie and Burns Lake. In addition, Okanagan College in Vernon has also run a program.
In these programs, the college also engages local driver training companies to deliver the Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT).
Once students have successfully completed that component and acquired their Class 1 licence, BCFSC teams each student up with a qualified, experienced log or chip truck driver who mentors the student. This is said to be an excellent example of community-level partnership, with truck owners who are looking to hire drivers and willing to invest in developing them. The drivers who take this challenge on are investing in the future of their community by helping to guide students to become capable professional drivers.
The mentorship gives students the opportunity to safely develop necessary skills and knowledge (such as doing pre-trip inspections, securing the load, installing tire chains, and so on). The mentor helps the student build driving behaviours and attitudes that serve them well as they start on their career in the forest industry.
The programs mentioned above are supported by federal and provincial government funding (Project-Based Labour Market Training). Given that funding, successful student candidates stand to capitalize on training that would otherwise have a substantial dollar value attached to it (e.g., MELT training alone costs about $15K+).
BCFSC has worked with other partners and models to deliver the training. And it is actively seeking opportunities and partnerships to help train students who can meet the demand for new drivers in the forest industry, men and women, young and not-so-young.
It seems like there are several takeaways from the current situation.
- Even though there are not many women logging truck drivers, those that are in the business have proven they are very capable of having successful driving careers, especially those who owned and operated their own trucks.
- All new drivers need to have mentors for the best training outcomes.
- Industry-supported training programs are currently available and will be critical in supporting current and future industry needs.
- Perhaps a lease-to-purchase approach is a way to attract new drivers to longer term employment.
- Some companies might be reluctant to hire women drivers, regardless of their experience. This could prove to be a major problem for them in a challenging labour market.
- Given the current labour challenges, an option may be for male and especially women drivers/owners to consider some type of job sharing (part-time work) when the drivers have home commitments. While it means more paperwork for the owner, at least a full-time job could be filled.
The BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC) says the B.C. forest industry recognizes that log hauling is a critical component of the supply chain, and industry members have been working in partnership with the BCFSC to enhance recruitment, training, and retention within the log hauling sector.