Looking back to February 2020, the Canadian trucking industry was facing an existing labour shortage of 20,000 jobs. This shortage is expected to surge to 50,000 vacancies by 2024—ultimately affecting demand, labour productivity, and attractiveness for new talent. Consumer needs were higher than ever, with more online shopping transactions, an active economy, and unemployment at reasonably low rates across the country. Enter the COVID-19 pandemic. Within weeks, more than a million Canadians lost their jobs—left scrambling to survive in the new normal. Although a few industries grew to thrive during the crisis, most had to deal with layoffs, work reductions, and closures. Unfortunately, trucking companies were not spared these damaging effects.
Impact on the trucking industry
COVID-19 disruptions have polarized the trucking industry as a whole. Although trucking was identified as an essential service and exempt from many restrictions, drivers who transported non-essential goods, or who supplied non-essential businesses, were suddenly parked with no end date in sight. Those fortunate enough to keep working faced even more difficult working conditions: limited washrooms and food stations, and additional quarantine measures on their return home. So, where does this leave the profession in the post-COVID recovery and growth period? Will drivers return to resume business as usual? Or will operators look for creative new solutions for their labour needs?
For business owners whose source of revenue depends on drivers delivering goods, a decrease in the number of drivers returning to work will have a noticeable impact. This return will only exasperate the existing driver shortage issue—even when the economy goes back to its regular pace.
Are driverless trucks the solution?
A significant disruptor in the trucking industry has been the development and implementation of driverless trucks. Despite up-front costs, using autonomous vehicles helps increase delivery times, and can solve the ongoing labour challenges. Driverless trucks have been successful in more stable climates, but is this trend Canada-ready? Are autonomous trucks able to handle Canada's unpredictable and fluctuating weather conditions?
Not quite yet. For the time being, Canadian trucking companies are still relying on human drivers to keep business moving.
New talent acquisition
Given the lack of young Canadians choosing careers in transportation and trucking, the labour gap has been on the rise for years. Alongside COVID's impact on the labour market, finding and retaining talent will continue to add to the evolving challenges. Fortunately, the government is doing its part to support the industry through wage increase incentives, safety training requirements, and immigration initiatives to attract foreign workers into the profession.
The federal government generally manages immigration programs. However, each province can create additional immigration pathways that address their unique regional labour needs. While a few provinces overlap in categories like IT and high-skilled workers, long-haul trucking is present in every province's program. This is a clear indicator of the significant labour shortage across the country—and the constant struggle to keep up.
Eligibility requirements for nomination vary from province to province, but most require applicants to have some foreign and/or Canadian trucking experience, meet minimum language skills, and have a job offer in Canada. Employers must also meet minimum requirements: being in active business for a particular number of years, employing a majority-Canadian workforce, and reaching specified annual revenue minimums.
Immigration continues to be an effective mechanism of supplementing the high demand for talent—despite longer processing times and lower quotas compared to high-skilled and professional streams. Nevertheless, this is certainly a positive start.
BDO's Immigration Services team can help navigate the various programs and requirements to best suit business needs. With end-to-end support, fleet managers can leverage Canada's provincial nomination programs to recruit new drivers, help them stay competitive, and keep on trucking.
Alberta closed their Semi-Skilled Worker category, which included long-haul trucking, in June 2018.
Ontario added long-haul drivers to the list of In-Demand Skills in July 2019.