Driving school

Big trucks, bigger obstacles: Driving school instructor says it’s time to invest in the next generation

Jim Campbell, director of operations and instructor at the eastern branch of the Ontario Truck Driving School, including their location in Niagara-on-the-Lake, says it’s now easier to become a truck driver due to the sheer number jobs that were cut in the field during the pandemic.
  • Shelley Walker, CEO of the Canadian Women's Trucking Federation, says women are still an under-represented part of the national trucking industry, and that progress in attracting more young people into the industry, men and women, is must start at the high s

David Roshat remembers the first time he drove a tractor-trailer on his own eight months ago – he describes it as an “amazing” feeling.

“You look at them on the road: they are huge,” he said. “It’s pretty shocking (to be) able to drive something like this.”

Roshat, 21, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, is one of a new horde of young people signing up to become certified truck drivers at the local Ontario Truck Driving School. Jim Campbell, the school’s operations director and truck driving instructor for 13 years, says more young people than ever are joining the school since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is just the start of a long career for them,” said Campbell.

They are entering the industry as it faces driver shortages linked to a pandemic, and Campbell says if the industry is to keep these new hires, they must adapt to the needs and skills of the new generation. .

According to the latest report from Trucking HR Canada, released in December, job vacancies reached 18,310 in the second quarter of 2021 as drivers were made redundant, retiring or abandoning the industry altogether. They forecast, based on the demand for drivers in other sectors, that the vacancies will reach 24,700 in 2025.

“There is so much work available,” said Campbell. “Now it’s really a driver’s market. “

Roshat was one of the pandemic era students of the truck driving school. He passed the air brake recognition course and obtained his Class A driver’s license in April. Roshat owns a logging business in North Bay and says the license allows him to transport his own lumber and equipment instead of paying to hire a driver.

“I think a lot of people should start getting into truck driving,” he said. “You get paid to travel… you help people… it makes you feel good about yourself.”

Roshat detailed some of the career benefits, including cost versus income: getting full certification to drive a tractor-trailer at their school costs around $ 11,000 for 12 weeks of instruction, after which the truck driver. average could earn between $ 60,000 and $ 80,000 in the first year. , depending on the company they work for and their schedules.

“There’s a lot of money in there,” Roshat said. “You will never be unemployed.”

Campbell said young drivers in the industry are welcome, especially as technology evolves over the next decade: self-driving trucks, for example, hit the market in North America last year. and Campbell anticipates that the industry will soon seek electrical engineers with truck driving experience.

“A younger person, they like the technical stuff,” he said. “It will attract those kinds of people. “

However, with this growth opportunity comes challenges. Trucking HR Canada’s December report notes that truck drivers aged 15 to 24 were more likely to be laid off during the pandemic, with many becoming discouraged and leaving the workforce altogether.

Campbell said trucking companies often view young drivers as “high risk” because of their inexperience.

“You have to invest in these people, the new generation,” he said. “Give them opportunities to develop their strengths. “

The report adds that female truck drivers are currently an “under-represented cohort” in the industry. Campbell concurred with this opinion, saying their new wave of young college students doesn’t include many women.

“This industry has been dominated by men since (the dawn of time),” said Shelley Walker, CEO of the Canadian Women’s Trucking Federation. “What we ladies call the ‘Old Boys Club’ still exists.”

Walker said getting young people interested in joining the industry, whether male or female, must start early; she wants to work more with high schools to introduce truck driving as a viable career path for their students.

Roshat said that as people’s respect for truck drivers grows, more and more people will become interested in the field.

“It’s a real industry that is evolving and becoming something more,” he said.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Our reporter wanted to take a look at one of the industries that suffered employment hard times during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Niagara-on-the-Lake’s role in its recovery.