March 15, 2013

NEWS: No drivers means no deliveries.

I have been enjoying team-writing lately. There's a generous dynamic at play when two people put their heads together - with engaging results that neither could achieve on her/his own. The article below is a collaboration with colleague and client Denis Medeiros.

We've done this many times over the years. Denis gets asked to supply a piece for his local community paper, and he provides the passion, the idea, and a draft of the content. I get in there with my writer's toolbox and start renovating, sometimes putting in a window where he wanted a door. It works! And in this last article, he makes a point we should all be aware of...

Crisis? Which Crisis?

According to the mainstream media, we North Americans are just now beginning to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of 1929. I don't know if this is an exaggeration, but from where I stand, it feels better this year than last. It feels as if there is room for optimism. And the reason I'm putting an emphasis on feelings is because I find myself making business decisions based on CNN reports and not necessarily what I actually see or experience in the world around me. In other words, every decision is heavily glazed with fear. Fear of what? Well, that's a good question.

Looking at the trucking industry and focused primarily on my business, it is true that I could easily grow my fleet, based on a recent increase in demand from my customers. I could safely add 10-15 more trucks – which would translate into steady work for 10-15 more drivers. That's a good thing, right? And because I assume that my company is representative of the industry, I'm guessing that other trucking companies are also feeling a little more prosperous.

So what's this nagging fear that keeps poking me in the gut? Maybe I should just turn off the television, stop listening to the news, and welcome a renewed sense of hope. The sun has been hiding behind the clouds for so long, it's almost impossible to believe that it can be warm again – the same feeling we get every spring. So let's go with it! I should get on the phone, order 15 new trucks, and take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity. I should gather my staff together and announce our new game plan -- imagine how excited they will be to hear me use the word “growth” for the first time in five years! This won't be another meeting to discuss cut-backs or limited pay structures, or spending freezes or tight budgets – no, this will be all about growth, optimism, promise, relief and opportunity.

And then my bubble bursts....
All excited and ready to move forward, the next step stops me cold in my tracks. Because, quite simply, in order to meet these wonderful opportunities, I will need more drivers. I will have 15 new trucks parked in the lot, a crew of happy, optimistic staff, and... no drivers. The most important piece of the puzzle, almost forgotten, because of another crisis which is never really talked about outside the industry.

What most Canadians don’t know is that we are now suffering a severe shortage of qualified truck drivers. We industry folk have known it was coming for a long time. And it is only now starting to show its impact and possible devastation. For all the talk about unemployment figures, job stimulation and bail-outs of companies "too big to fail", everyone has forgotten that we need people to deliver our goods, and that this very essential job has been diminished by years of pressure to work harder for less pay, increased regulations for the sake of security, and a lack of respect for the job overall, even from big players within the industry.

As a devastating result, over the next seven years the Canadian trucking industry is bound to be short-staffed by as many as 30,000 drivers. This will be exacerbated, of course, by a large number of drivers who are nearing retirement age.

If any of you are reading this thinking "this is not my problem!" then think again. Everything you buy off a store shelf is delivered on a truck. Everything in your house, neighbourhood and work environment was purchased by you from one provider, who was completely reliant on another provider to transport it from A to B, and most likely by truck. I am not going to use scare tactics to describe the full magnitude of the problem; but I am going to do what I can to raise your awareness of the importance of truck drivers in our economy. And I am going to use my resources and my knowledge and skills in this more positive way.

Digging deep for solutions....
When I look for solutions, I turn first to the scores of bright individuals who are recent graduates from college and university – just over 300,000 per year, according to Statistics Canada. These are the boys and girls who invested time and energy into getting degrees in many different fields. They are full of hope, and go out into the world clutching their diplomas or degrees. "Welcome to the real world," is probably what they hear everywhere they go.

Not only do most of them discover that there are no good jobs in their chosen fields, many of them quickly realize that there isn't a decent job to be had anywhere close to home, based on their criteria of "decent" (one that offers a challenge and pays a reasonable wage). It's so easy for these young people to lose hope – they studied so hard and had such expectations. Then they find themselves taking jobs for minimum wage, compromising their skill bases to earn a living, or taking on any job just to pay off their student debt. Maybe, they think, something better will come along soon... in the meantime, they still need to put a roof over their heads, eat, and enjoy some rewards of living in a country with one of the highest qualities of life on the planet.

Why not driving a truck?
I ask these young people - Why not trucking? Yes, it’s hard work and sure, it means taking on a huge responsibility, but why not? You have to be flexible – at least enough to be away from home for four-six days a week. You have to like driving, and you have to consider the weather as one of your daily challenges. Aside from the travel, though, which most drivers see as a positive, it's the same as any other job. Including the travel, it's the same as piloting a plane or conducting a train – in fact, truck drivers, in some ways, have it better than pilots. There's a lot of freedom on the open road. It's only our "perception" of truck drivers that makes this job low on the career pole, I suspect.

Yet most of us, particularly those of us who enjoy Canada's vast and open spaces, have at some point thought of driving across the country on an exciting "road trip." Why not consider a career that not only allows you to pay back your student loans and fund your living expenses, but also gives you an opportunity to see this great country and continent while you do? For some drivers, it's an incredible experience that they wouldn't trade for all the tea in China (which, let me remind you, would have never made it to North America without transportation).

Here in Canada, and with a good employer, truck drivers are part of a grand adventure that pays as much as $50-80,000 a year. Women drivers are adding to the numbers, and newer technology is making it easier for all drivers, in terms of staying connected and needing less brute strength. In the long run, encouraging our youth to get behind the wheel and keep our economy going is just common sense. Unlike telemarketing or even manufacturing, this is not something that we can hand over to another country with equal resources.   

We should all talk about this seriously, before we, as consumers, are forced to pay higher prices for goods that just can't make it across the country due to driver shortages. Let's open the discussion with our children, our neighbours and our community – what's wrong with truck driving as a job opportunity? I'm proud of our drivers, and you should be, too.

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