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Lakeland trucking companies face challenges brought on by retiring workforce

Retiring workforce, equipment shortages and certification requirements among challenges experienced by Lakeland trucking industry  

LAKELAND - Across the Lakeland region, an industry that is vital to delivering consumer goods and servicing the oil and gas industry has been going through a series of challenges.   

Over the years, with a strong truck driving workforce primarily comprised of the dedicated baby boomer population now on the horizon of retirement, filling vacant positions with qualified drivers has become increasingly difficult, according to Ab Beisel, Calnash Trucking operations manager. 

Additionally, the provincial Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) Class 1 certification program required to operate a tractor-trailer entails over 113 hours of training and costs upwards of $10,000. While Calnash can support the cost of training, finding the right candidates who are willing to commit is difficult, he says, which is adding to the hiring shortage. 

“That’s probably our biggest challenge right now is labour shortages. We’re trying to find experienced labourers and there is such a lag with the MELT program. The sound drivers have to come in and we’re not really attracting any young people in the industry right now, especially, since it’s so expensive for them to get into it in the first place.” 

Calnash’s headquarters is based in Lac La Biche and has been operating for 50 years primarily supporting oilfield hauling services across northern and central Alberta. Over the last few years, with the COVID-19 pandemic, that staffing shortage has compounded, said Beisel. 

Trucking equipment  

With more equipment at their arsenal as Calnash continues to expand services, having those drivers behind the wheel is vital, he said. 

“Equipment isn’t the issue, we can get equipment, but to find experienced people to run it is the number one challenge. Obviously, with more equipment on the road, the more aggressive you can get with chasing the work down." 

However, for some larger-scale organizations who are impacted by the labour shortage, there is also an equipment shortage affecting supply chains, said Roxanne Ringuette, B&R Eckel’s Transport’s director of human resources and communications. 

“The transportation industry is experiencing supply chain issues, as are many other industries. It’s becoming harder to get equipment, parts... it certainly affects trucking.”  

The Bonnyville based organization services the region and works across western Canada, serving commercial, private and oil and gas industries for the last 57 years. Ringuette says continuing to expand their fleet, is a growing concern. 

“It's difficult to buy new trucks because there simply are none to buy. We are having to order and wait and there are no guarantees that we’ll get them.” 

In turn, without the steady flow of services provided by the trucking industry, it can affect community service, she said 

“This is still the primary way that goods move in this country, particularly to rural areas.” 

Supporting the industry 

As Lakeland companies experience challenges, utilizing local trucking services is one way to support the local transportation industry —especially during this time of inflation, said Ringuette.  

“Use the local transportation companies as much as you can. We’re a local business as well and to understand that we face some of the same challenges that our customers face —fuel is expensive, it’s expensive for everybody. That presents a particular challenge when you’re running bigger and more equipment.”   

Additionally, helping the community businesses thrive not only provides hundreds of local jobs but draws residents to work and live in the community, Beisel says, experiencing that benefit firsthand over the last six years with Calnash and 40 years in the industry. 

“We’re probably one of the biggest employers in Lac La Biche County. By supporting us, we potentially support our community too by attracting new people for population growth so that our town stays vibrant. It’s a win-win for shopping locally and for sustainability for our community.” 

Giving thanks 

While challenges continue, acknowledging the sacrifices and hours spent behind the wheel by the drivers is important, says Ringuette. And for the families who are impacted by their loved ones who are fulfilling the front-line role, a huge thanks is owed to them too, she notes. 

“I think that families of truck drivers really deserve as much appreciation as truck drivers themselves. I don’t think truck drivers want to be away, as they sometimes are, but that’s the nature of the job.”