Canadian forest industry hit by truck driver shortages

A shortage of truck drivers is hampering Canada’s forest sector as shipments have been delayed and at least one producer was forced to slow production because of a lack of wood chips.

Weyerhaeuser Co. chief executive Doyle Simons said Friday that availability of transportation services has been a challenge, especially in the past quarter. "We, like other companies, are, in fact, seeing that type of tightness," he said during a conference call about the company's results. Simons said the company faced truck and rail disruptions, mainly in December, and took a US$10 million to US$15 million hit in the fourth quarter.

Paul Quinn of RBC Capital Markets said transportation issues is something all forestry producers are talking about. "People have been talking about labour issues for a while, it's just getting more acute now," he said from Vancouver. He said companies have been able to offset the pressure with higher selling prices.

Shortages are a national challenge in many sectors, said Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance. "What you're starting to see is a capacity problem in our industry due to a truck driver shortage," he said in an interview.

Laskowski said the trucking industry is struggling to convince young people to take up the profession in sufficient numbers to replace the 10,000 truckers who retire every year. About 26 per cent of all truck drivers are over 55 years old, a larger percentage than other sectors, he said. The average age is expected to be around 50 years old by 2024. The shortage is expected to reach 34,000 or as much as 48,000 by 2024, Laskowski said. There are currently more than 200,000 truckers working in Canada.

Bob Matters, wood council chairman for the United Steelworkers union in British Columbia, said the shortage of drivers across the country comes down to demographics. Young people aren't attracted to working long hours, often in harsh conditions for inadequate compensation, he said. Also, zero tolerance and pre-employment drug testing is eliminating many potential recruits.


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