The Globe and Mail, I want to be a truck driver. What will my salary be? (originally published Feb 11/15 and updated May 12/18) reports that, in North America, about 90 percent of all consumer products are delivered by truck. Added to that, the increasing numbers of online shipments and just-in-time delivery systems means that the demand for trucking services continues to grow. On the other hand, despite rising compensation, long-haul driving is not appealing to enough younger workers. (See: Trucker shortage has industry scrambling, but lifestyle a hard sell [CBC Jun 25/18], Trucking industry facing driver shortage [CBC Jul 15/18], and Canadian trucking industry to face labour shortage unless it diversifies [CBC May 23/16].) As a result, “the trucking industry is in desperate need of employees across the country.” It’s a terrific time to seek employment within this sector, but the working conditions will not appeal to everyone.

Newcomers filling the void

In recent years, there has been a dramatic shift in the demographic composition of this sector: “In Vancouver, South Asian immigrants now account for the majority (55.9%) of drivers. The share in Toronto is not far behind at 53.9%… Increasingly, the job candidates are coming from elsewhere. Canada had 181,330 truck drivers in 2016, according to the Census data – and 58,985 of those drivers reported that they came from outside Canada. It represents a dramatic change in the past 25 years. A mere 7.7% of truck drivers were immigrants in 1991. Their numbers surged to 32.5% of the driver pool in 2016.” The Changing Face of Trucking: A demographic shift (Today’s Trucking Sep 24/18.)

Truck driver

Types of transport driving opportunities

In general, a transport driver delivers goods and/or materials between destinations. Drivers usually operate a van or truck, including specialized trucks and tractor trailers. Distances traveled may be short (local) or long (cross-country or across international borders). The Skilled Immigrant Infocentre in BC offers a good overview of truck driving for newcomers.

Long haul drivers

When drivers routinely travel further than 160 km from their home terminals, they are referred to as long-haul drivers. Work as a long-haul driver may necessitate travelling from coast-to-coast or even crossing international borders.

Short haul drivers

A Government of British Columbia website defines “short haul” trips as those that are within a 160 km radius of the driver’s home terminal. Short haul drivers deliver the same sort of goods as local pick-up and delivery drivers, with one exception: they do not provide restaurant home delivery services. Short haul drivers typically make a series of pick-ups and deliveries throughout the day.

Specialized freight transport drivers

As explained on a Government of Canada website, some freight needs to be moved by specialized vehicles, such as dump trucks, cement trucks, tow trucks, refrigerated vans, bulk tankers, and auto transport trucks. Moving vans, utilized to transport used household or office goods between locations, are also considered part of this category.

Regardless of the category a driver works within, all are expected to follow traffic and transportation laws. Additionally, most are required to keep delivery records; some may also be required to update log books. A driver may also be required to conduct safety checks and maintenance on the vehicle and/or ensure that loads are evenly distributed and secured. The required duties largely depend on the type of vehicle driven, the type of product transported, and whether the driver is an owner-operator (self-employed) or works for another company.

Local pick-up and delivery drivers

Drivers who work within a defined local area often operate a delivery or cube van or a smaller truck. They may deliver products to individuals, such as couriered items, parcels, or large newly-purchased items like furniture and appliances. They may also deliver products between businesses, such as goods between manufacturing plants; food and beverages from wholesaler to restaurant; or lumber from wholesaler to building site. Local drivers may also provide restaurant home delivery services. These types of drivers most often use personal vehicles (including cars) for deliveries. See our separate post on Local Delivery Service Drivers and Helpers.

Pros and cons of transport driving

Due to the shortage of qualified drivers, it can be relatively easy to find a job in long and short haul trucking. That said, being a transport driver isn’t for everyone. Keep these points in mind when considering employment in this sector:

  1. Compensation. (See the discussion below.)
  2. Travel. While long haul drivers get to see many parts of the country, the flip side is long periods of time away from home and family.
  3. Stress. The job can be stressful, given contributing factors like weather, traffic, and road conditions, mechanical issues, border-crossing regulations, and tight deadlines.
  4. Long, unconventional hours. In order to meet deadlines, long haul drivers may be required to drive up to 13 hours/day (in Ontario). Driving overnight is often preferable since there is less traffic.
  5. Health issues. Some drivers may develop health issues, which may be related, for example, too obesity, smoking, low physical activity, high blood pressure, diabetes, sun exposure, and back problems (from sitting for long periods of time and/or loading and unloading cargo.) See also, the CDC website.
  6. Independence and freedom. Many drivers have more independence than a typical job offers. They work under little supervision, can often set their own hours of work, and, in the case of long haul drivers, may be able to choose how long to stay out on the road.
  7. Opportunities for advancement. Work as a truck driver can lead to a variety of other well-paying jobs within the sector, including freight broker and fleet operator.

Driver’s licence requirements

The type of truck licence required depends on:

  • the weight of the vehicle;
  • the weight of the towed vehicle;
  • the combined weight of the vehicle and towed vehicle;
  • whether the vehicle is a tractor-trailer; and
  • whether or not the vehicle is equipped with air brakes.

For full details on truck driver licencing in Ontario, see the Ministry of Transportation post: Get a truck driver’s licence.

Class A licence

In Ontario, a full Class A truck licence is the only licence that covers full air brake systems on both tractors and trailers. This is also the only province that has mandatory training requirements for a full Class A licence. The training must include at least 103.5 hours of instruction and cover the entry-level knowledge and skills needed to safely operate a large truck on Ontario’s roads.

A restricted Class A (condition R) licence authorizes driving smaller truck-trailer combinations, such as a recreational, horse or utility trailer. No training course is required for this level.

Class D licence

A Class D licence authorizes driving a truck with a gross weight over 11,000 kilograms (24,000 lb) (which may include a towed vehicle up to a certain weight). While both road and knowledge tests are required, there is no mandatory training course, such as for a full Class A licence.

Class G licence

To drive small trucks, only a full Class G licence is required in Ontario.

Training programs

Because of the safety issues inherent in the industry, job experience and/or additional training is valued by employers. Those seeking employment in the trucking industry are encouraged to go through reputable training programs that are offered or certified by provincial trucking organizations.

For details on training programs available in each region, visit the following websites.

In Ontario, training may be offered by institutions or other organizations that are recognized by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s Driver Certification Program, including:

  • private career colleges;
  • colleges of applied arts and technology; and
  • other organizations approved by the ministry.

To find a recognized local training program, either visit the Government of Ontario website or visit the Ontario Works Training Programs in Toronto website and use the term “trucking” to search for applicable programs.

Need for English language proficiency

Transport drivers are considered semi-skilled workers and, as such, a Government of Saskatchewan website suggests a minimum English language proficiency level of CLB 4, but points out that some employers and regulatory bodies may require higher language scores. Some transport drivers (especially local pick up and delivery drivers and short haul drivers) will have a significant amount of verbal communication with customers and clients. While specialized freight transport and long haul drivers may not be required to interact frequently with the public, they will need to have the proficiency required to read signage, understand written communications, and complete records and log books.

Experience required

As with any job, having related experience can make it easier to find employment. However, most employers offer on-the-job training for entry-level positions, as long as the applicant meets licensing and training requirements.

Compensation

There is an excellent outline of factors that affect a truck driver’s compensation in the blog post, How Much Does a Truck Driver Make? (The Transporter blog, Jun 18, 2019.) This blog points out many considerations, including:

  • perhaps most important, whether pay is salary or by-the-mile and whether loading/unloading times are compensated;
  • whether the driver is an owner-operator or a company driver;
  • the type and size of truck being driven;
  • what type of routes are being run (e.g. regional vs over-the-road);
  • level of driver certification training, and experience;
  • carriage of any hazardous materials;
  • the potential to earn bonuses;
  • cross-border travel; and
  • benefit plans and company policies (in the case of employed drivers.)

Added to this list could be:

  • geographic location of the driver’s home terminal and the corresponding local demand for drivers; and
  • whether the job is unionized (in the case of employed drivers.)

As the author of the above blog post writes “It’s easy enough to Google ‘Canada truck driver salaries’ and come up with a basic range to get started. Doing so, you’ll find that a truck driver in Canada typically makes somewhere between $38,000 and $79,000 per year.” But he goes on to point out that “the definition of “truck driver” is vague and could refer to being a cube van delivery driver for a local furniture store, for example, and it also includes part-time workers.” Taking into account the many factors listed above, experienced truck drivers could earn even more and, if they are entrepreneurial and own their own equipment, might net the most, after expenses.

A post, A quick Guide to the State of Truck Driving in Canada (Smart Trucking, Oct. 24, 2019), points out that driver wages have not kept up with the cost of living in Canada and “proportionately, the truck driver shortage in Canada is worse than in the United States.” The author cites five key reasons for the truck driver shortage in Canada:

  • Low pay;
  • Not a highly respected career;
  • Driving hours allowed in Canada are longer than in the U.S., with relatively few good, full service, truck stops;
  • High truck driver training costs; and
  • Lack of truck parking.

The author goes on claim that ‘the Immigration Canada website is less than truthful when it states trucking jobs in Canada can exceed $70,00 per annum. After many, many years experience in the trucking industry, I can say without hesitation, that very few Canadian truck drivers are earning over $70,000, as a company driver. On average, Canadian truck drivers can realistically expect to earn between $40,000 to $50,000 annually, depending where the trucking company is located in Canada and the niche.”

Self-employment/entrepreneurial opportunities

An article in Truck News, Driver Services: Employee or Independent (July 1, 2008), points out that many trucking companies contract owner-operators to drive for them. These self-employed drivers own their own vehicles, and although they are contracted to haul goods for a company, they are technically small business owners.

This type of arrangement has pros and cons for both the company and the driver.

The company saves costs by not having to maintain the vehicle. Their own paperwork is lightened, since they do not have to submit any payroll or income tax information to the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) on behalf of the driver. They do not have to contribute to employee benefit funds, such as Employment Insurance (EI), Canada Pension Plan (CPP), or worker’s compensation or health insurance plans. They also do not have to adhere to any employment or labour codes and are not restricted by hiring or termination regulations.

For the driver, being an owner-operator may result in what seems to be higher income because income tax, EI, CPP, and benefit contributions aren’t withheld at source. But, income tax will still ultimately need to be paid, and lack of access to benefit plans is detrimental to drivers. The driver must also be able to finance the acquisition or lease of the vehicle and is resposnible for its maintenance.

Unionization

Many transport drivers within Canada are unionized. Teamsters Canada is one of the largest unions representing employees in this sector, through their Freight and Tank Haul and their Parcels divisions. (The union is also known as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters or IBT.) As pointed out in a piece at Truck News, To unionize or not to unionize, that is the question, other unions that have trucking components as part of their membership include:

There are positive and negative aspects to unionized employment. A discussion on some of the pros and cons of working in a union is included in our post on Construction and maintenance jobs.