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Ontario Trucking Association wants immigrant workers to fill driver shortage

According to a 2016 study, the Canadian trucking industry will be short 34,000 drivers by 2024. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) is calling on the provincial government to launch a pilot program that would allow freight carriers to bring in immigrant workers to fill a critical driver shortage.

The North American trucking industry has been grappling with a severe shortage of drivers over the last several years, an issue that became increasingly dire through 2018, president of the Ontario Trucking Association Stephen Laskowski said in an interview with Yahoo Finance Canada.

“The driver shortage became more acute in 2018 due to the fact that we have a large percentage of individuals over the age of 55 driving… we’re facing older demographics, more retirements and, at the same time, more demand,” said Laskowski, who is also the president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA). 

“It’s only expected it to get worse in 2019. This is an issue from a supply-chain perspective and we need to find a solution to it.”

According to a 2016 study conducted by the Trucking Alliance of Canada, the industry will be short 34,000 drivers by 2024. One company in Northern Ontario had 20 trucks sitting idle in 2018 because of a lack of drivers, Laskowski said.

While there are several options that could help potentially narrow the labour gap, Laskowski is appealing to the province to look at how immigration policy can help the industry gain more access to qualified workers overseas. 

Both the CTA and OTA would like to see the province launch a pilot project to attract truck drivers through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP), which aims to fill labour shortages with skilled international workers. Laskowski points to a 2017 initiative which saw the previous provincial Liberal government launch an “In-Demand Skills Stream” to the OINP, focusing on attracting workers to specific jobs in construction and agriculture sectors.

“We’re asking Ontario Premier Doug Ford to consider opening up that program to include the trucking industry,” Laskowski said. “Because of the shortage of labour across the supply chain, we need to look at immigration in perhaps a different way than we did in the recent past.”

Representatives from the OTA and CTA met with Ford, Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek and Economic Development Minister Todd Smith in late December to discuss the driver shortage, as well other issues facing the industry.

Kwok Wong, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, said in a emailed statement on Tuesday that the province is working with the federal government on initiatives to help address chronic labour shortages across a range of sectors, including with the trucking industry.

“We are currently exploring how our programs can maximize our annual Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program nomination allocation to help alleviate these shortages and provide support through economic immigration,” Wong said.

Wong said OINP allocations are reviewed by ministry staff on an ongoing basis, which includes “managing intake to fill labour shortages in specific occupations” such as the trucking industry.

David Carruth, president and chief executive of One for Freight and chairman of the OTA, says his company is one of many struggling to find drivers to fill a shortage at a time with solid economic growth and increasing demand. With unemployment in Ontario so low, and more and more drivers retiring, he said it has been difficult to recruit young drivers to join the industry.

“We’re getting innovative, in terms of what we offer to employees, how we pay them, how we provide down-time,” Carruth said. But it’s still not enough to close the driver shortage gap.

“A pilot program would allow us to have a heck of a lot more access to overseas labour and make sure that that labour ends up with the carriers that are investing in their companies,” Laskowski said.

“That what we want to see, and that’s how we want to grow.”

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