Trucking runs in Mark Sydorchuk’s blood.
His brother is a trucker. His father was a trucker. And ever since his dad let him back up his first big rig in an empty parking lot when he was 13, there was nothing else Sydorchuk wanted to do.
“I couldn’t really reach the pedals,” the 25-year-old recalled. “It was scary but, at the same time, awesome. I was in love after that.”
He’s not exaggerating. Everyone should love their job as much as Mark Sydorchuk. (Just watch the clip below.)
Why trucking desperately needs new blood
Young blood, like Sydorchuk, is something Canada’s trucking industry desperately needs as it faces a serious shortage of qualified drivers that’s only set to get worse.
As of 2018, the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) estimates that shortage could be as high as 22,000 vacant driver positions across the country. Those vacancies are expected to swell to 34,000 by 2024, thanks to an inability to recruit enough young people or women to replace aging drivers.
“It’s been described as a demographic tsunami,” said Jon Blackham, the OTA’s director of policy and public affairs.
“Trucking has one of the oldest workforces in the entire economy and, at the same time, there is a declining share of young people willing to get into the industry.”
Cost, U.S. age restrictions are barriers to young people
That few young people seem to be willing to take up the trade might seem counterintuitive. Not only does trucking pay well — salaries range from $44,000 to $110,000 — it also offers those behind the wheel a life of travel, where they can get paid to see large swaths of North America.
To become a qualified driver, students must complete an eight-week course, which costs about $8,000 and grants them a licence in the province where they’re registered upon graduation.
While it might sound attractive to someone looking to take a few years off between high school and college or university, very few young people ever sign up to take a course, according to Gus Rahim, the president of the Ontario Truck Driving School, based in London, Ont.
“A lot of the people getting into it are looking at a second career. They’re a little older, anywhere from say 40 to 65, and these are the ones who are coming into the industry now.”
Rahim said he believes the reason trucking has problems attracting young blood is partly due to the age restrictions in the United States, where drivers must be at least 21 to haul cargo across state lines. As a precaution, most American shippers want their drivers to be at least 23.
In Canada, where most drivers only have to be 18, that’s a problem. Most truckers who starting their careers cut their teeth on long-haul jobs where crossing the U.S. border is common. It means any Canadian who starts at 18 has to wait at least three years to work in the United States.
That wait is too long for most, Rahim said.
“By the time they go from 18 to 21, a lot of them have already tried careers, they’ve tried something and maybe they’ve stuck with it and it’s very hard to get them to change their mind at that time.”
The other barrier, according to Rahim, is cost. For young people, many of whom work minimum-wage jobs, the $8,000 tuition cost can be hard to come by.
In Ontario, where more than half of Canada’s trucking companies are based, prospective students can’t apply for loans under the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to help pay their tuition — something Rahim wants to see the provincial government change.
Why trucking can’t recruit women
The other problem facing trucking is the recruitment of women.
Historically, women have made up only three per cent of all truck drivers, according to the Ontario Trucking Association. More recent estimates put that figure anywhere from five to seven per cent, thanks to OTA networking events aimed at recruiting women and raising their profile within the industry.
Still, the OTA said the number of women behind the wheel isn’t growing as fast as they would like. One reason for that might lie with women themselves, according to Carole Dore, an instructor with the Ontario Truck Driving School.
“I think it’s because they don’t think they can do it,” she said. “Anybody can do this job — it’s not just a man’s world anymore.”
Dore, a mother of three, worked as a truck driver for 11 years; she got her start driving a school bus for a year, then decided to move up to a bigger ride.
She did mostly local jobs, hauling freight between cities, sometimes taking cargo to Grand Rapids, Mich., or Toledo, Ohio. Her longest trips were 10 to 12 hours, leaving her enough time to see her children every day.
“It was important for me to be there for them,” she said. “I made it home every day.”
Trucking is not always an easy life
Yet women like Dore remain more the exception than the rule when it comes to driving trucks, which might be because it’s not a career for everyone, some drivers acknowledge.
Doug Groulx, an Ontario truck driver with 29 years experience on the road, said most people don’t want the job because it takes you away from your family, including during holidays.
“We don’t get Canada Day off if it falls on a Monday. You have to go to work,” he said, citing one example. “Maybe they don’t want to miss out on that.”
For Groulx, that isn’t a problem; he has no children and has never been married. But he said he has plenty of colleagues who are — and they depend on strong relationships with their partners.
“I guess you have to work with your partner,” he said. “You have to have that understanding that you’re going to be gone for five days.
“I wouldn’t call it a hard life but you have to put your time in,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets.”
The same rings true for bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Mark Sydorchuk. As earnest as he is, even he understands that trucking isn’t always easy.
“It’s demanding. Not many people like that kind of job because you [have] got to sit there for hours and look out the window. It gets boring and lonely at times,” he said. “Some people like the job, some people don’t.”
Yet we all still depend on trucks, with almost everything we own getting shipped by truck — something that could become problematic if the industry doesn’t solve its driver shortage. But it’s a problem that Sydorchuk believes could be solved easily.
“If loads start paying more, they’ll see more drivers,” he said. “While they’re paying really cheap for loads out there, no one’s going to want to do the job.
“They don’t get paid enough.”
How the COVID-19 microchip shortage has brought Canada's car industry to a halt — again – CBC.ca
Even before the pandemic, 2020 was always going to be an uncertain year for Canada’s automotive industry.
The Big 3 automakers — General Motors, Ford and Chrysler (now known as Stellantis) — were set to negotiate multi-year work agreements with their main unions, after the previous agreements with their workers had expired.
Then COVID-19 hit, and everything changed. Buyers weren’t coming to showrooms for fear of getting sick, so sales slowed to a crawl. Factories shut down to keep workers safe.
By the time consumers felt safe enough to take their first tentative steps back into dealerships this year, they were confronted by a new problem: There were no cars to buy.
That’s because when things slowed down in 2020, car companies slashed their orders from their suppliers for the components that go into them. When demand came roaring back, those same suppliers could not ramp up fast enough, especially the makers of the cheap little semiconductor microchips that are in just about everything these days.
“Automakers in Canada initially thought that demand would be very slow recovery over the course of the pandemic, so they cut their chip orders,” said Rebekah Young, an economist with Scotiabank.
It’s not just the car companies, either. Makers of everything from iPhones, to gaming consoles and even refrigerators can’t find microchips right now, which is a global supply crunch for just about everything.
A typical car rolling off the line today likely contains dozens of semiconductor microchips that control everything from the headlights to the entertainment system to GPS navigation.
They’re relatively inexpensive, adding a few dollars apiece to the cost of a typical car. But they’re also highly customized, which means it’s next to impossible to find alternatives on short notice. But without that custom-made $1 microchip, a car company can’t finish a car that might sell for $40,000 — and the industry is scrambling to get its hands on what’s available.
“Do you remember the toilet paper shortage in March and April of 2020?” automotive journalist Stephanie Wallcraft said in an interview. “That’s pretty much what we’re going through right now in terms of semiconductors.”
“Everybody’s trying to get semiconductors all at once and there’s just not the supply to get that inventory out,” she said.
Car companies aren’t necessarily at the front of the line, so they’re waiting their turn same as everyone else. That’s causing them to idle factories in Canada until they can get the components to start building again.
GM’s facility in Ingersoll has been down for most of the year, and Ford’s main Oakville plant has been idled at times, too. The Stellantis facility in Windsor was offline for two months up until May before it reopened at limited capacity.
As recently as last year Stellantis was floating the idea of expanding production there but this week the company waylaid staff with news that it would be closing one line entirely and laying off 1,800 workers.
In the labour deals they hammered out late last year, Canada’s big car makers made it clear that the future of the automotive industry in Canada will be in making electric vehicles, but most of those won’t be rolling off the lines until some time in 2024 at the earliest.
Until then, Canadian car plants don’t have a lot to do, and a big part of the problem is that the vehicles Canadian plants are set up to make aren’t the ones that are selling.
“What they’re doing is they’re allocating the minimum chips to their most profitable vehicles,” Unifor president Jerry Dias said in an interview with CBC News.
“If you’re looking at the industry in North America that would be predominantly pickup trucks and SUVs.”
Young, the economist, says Canada is on track to produce about 1.2 million vehicles this year. That would be the lowest annual total since 1982 — below the 1.4 million the country made in pandemic-stricken 2020, and well off the 2.2 million annual pace that the country had been cranking out for the decade leading up to 2019.
Chip makers, mostly in Asia had been ramping up production through the first part of 2021, before the delta variant put a chill on everything again. Malaysia makes about one seventh of the world’s semiconductors, and factories there have been idled for September and October. Vietnam is another major supplier, and they too are about three months behind because of COVID lockdowns.
For both car buyers and the people who make them, the good news is that the experts think things will get back to normal at some point. But the bad news is it could take a while.
“Demand for vehicles is very strong this year, and that could have easily closed pre-pandemic gaps this year if there were enough vehicles to buy,” Young said.
But without enough chips to go around “we see that being pushed out not only to 2022, but in fact 2023.”
At least 34 dead after floods in north India
At least 34 people have died following days of heavy rains in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand, the state’s chief minister said, as rescuers continued work to free those stranded on Wednesday.
Aerial footage of the affected areas showed engorged rivers and villages partially submerged by floodwaters.
“There is huge loss due to the floods … the crops have been destroyed,” Pushkar Singh Dhami told Reuters partner ANI after surveying the damage late on Tuesday.
“The locals are facing a lot of problems, the roads are waterlogged, bridges have been washed away. So far 34 people have died and we are trying to normalise the situation as soon as possible.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet he was “anguished” by the loss of life.
The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is especially prone to flooding. More than 200 were feared killed in February after flash floods swept away a hydroelectric dam.
Unseasonally heavy rains across India have led to deadly floods in several areas of the country in recent days. Authorities in the southern state of Kerala said on Monday more than 20 people had died there following landslides. (This story corrects typographic error in the last paragraph)
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Jane Wardell)
Japanese volcano spews plumes of ash, people warned away
A volcano erupted in Japan on Wednesday, blasting ash several miles into the sky and prompting officials to warn against the threat of lava flows and falling rocks, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
Mount Aso, a tourist destination on the main southern island of Kyushu, sent plumes of ash 3.5 km (2.2 miles) high when it erupted at about 11:43 a.m. (0243 GMT), the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
It raised the alert level for the volcano to 3 on a scale of 5, telling people not to approach, and warned of a risk of large falling rocks and pyroclastic flows within a radius of about 1 km (0.6 mile) around the mountain’s Nakadake crater.
The government is checking to determine the status of a number of climbers on the mountain at the time, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters, but added that there were no reports of casualties.
Television networks broadcast images of a dark cloud of ash looming over the volcano that swiftly obscured large swathes of the mountain.
Ash falls from the 1,592-metre (5,222-foot) mountain in the prefecture of Kumamoto are expected to shower nearby towns until late afternoon, the weather agency added.
Mount Aso had a small eruption in 2019, while Japan’s worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years killed 63 people on Mount Ontake in September 2014.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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