After 18 months of uncertainty around trucking and the essential service that puts goods on shelves, the industry is looking ahead to getting the economy moving.
Terry Shaw, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association, said the industry has now figured out how to deal with heath restrictions and people understand the rules.
That’s in stark contrast to the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, when many truck stops were closed, limiting services for people on the road.
"We’re kind of in that third phase now where everybody understands current protocols and the current rules for the most part," Shaw said.
"There’s not much policy change right now for truck drivers and so that kind of third phase of the pandemic is ‘How do we get back to business, how do we open up, how do we get back to whatever normal?’"
There are always challenges in truck driving, he said, but drivers and the people around them now know how to stay safe in their work.
Now, the challenge is around staffing and making sure there are enough drivers to fuel the growing Manitoba economy.
Shaw said the industry needs approximately 600 new drivers each year for the next seven years to meet the need for truckers — one every 15 hours. It’s among the highest industry for net new job openings.
The need is partly due to demographics as drivers are older on average than other workers, but also due to a growing economy and need for the service.
The Manitoba Trucking Association is doing everything possible to promote opportunities in the industry, he said, and has an outreach coordinator doing career fairs and talking to immigration coordinators.
"There’s a whole host of things we’re doing to communicate opportunities within the trucking industry for employment," he said.
"It’s not just truck drivers. We need technicians and HR professionals, IT professionals, sales professionals, but truck driver is the most pressing need clearly."
The organization is also liaising with the provincial government to demonstrate the economic need throughout the entire supply chain. Shaw said they are also working on training and the outcomes of training.
"Work is ongoing, there’s some good stuff going on in Manitoba… that’s a big need in terms of our provincial economy," he said.
Al Lepp, one of the owners of Rivers-based Redline Transportation, agreed the industry has stabilized and is in recovery mode. The Westman business is mostly involved with the agricultural industry, so didn’t have to deal with the uncertainty of making cross-border trips into the United States.
Truckers are appreciative of the support they have revived from the community over the course of the pandemic, he said. Many people now realize how important the job is for stocking grocery store shelves and getting them the goods they use in their day-to-day lives.
He said restaurants and truck stops are now operating relatively normally compared to the beginning of the pandemic, so truckers can now refuel both themselves and their trucks more easily.
"The trucking industry is solid, it’s vital to the economy and there’s some fantastic people working in it and the drivers you see on the road… day in and day out they are professionals that are doing their very best to keep the shelves stocked and the mills stocked with feed supply," he said.
"There’s really no area of the economy that trucking is not a vital part of supplying at least the raw materials to. As they say, ‘Whatever you got, a truck probably brought.’ "
National Trucking Week runs from Sept. 5 to Sept. 11.
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