Helmets to Hardhats Canada (H2H) will launch a new initiative for people accredited to operate trucks and large vehicles in the armed forces, which aims to get these qualifications recognized in the civilian economy.
"It an interesting paradox that we are seeing in Canada, as well as Ontario and Alberta in particular, that there is a shortage of skilled drivers in the commercial sector," said Greg Matte, H2H executive director.
"At the same time, we have quite a lot of people who are in the military who have driving skills that would be the equivalent of either heavy truck or tractor trailer type drivers."
H2H is a partnership with Canada’s Building Trades Unions, employers and government, which helps anyone who has served or is currently serving in the armed forces make the transition to a civilian career.
The Conference Board of Canada released a study in 2013 that found Canada could experience a shortage of 25,000 to 33,000 for-hire truck drivers by 2020.
According to the study, tens of thousands of current drivers are about to retire and there are a very small number of young drivers taking their place.
"The problem we are seeing is that these vets have tremendous qualifications and training in the military on some of the vehicles they are driving, and they are presently permitted to drive on roadways in Canada," said Matte.
"However, when they take their uniform off, that license that we give them to drive in the military is not recognized by the provincial authorities."
Matte said these veterans have all the qualifications to start working today as commercial drivers, but they are not accredited for what they have in the military.
"Basically, the veterans end up having to get training at their own expense to be ready to do a test with a civilian vehicle that they have to rent, as well as a civilian instructor that they have to pay, and then do a test," he said.
"So, we are working closely with the Teamsters (union), and in particular we are focused on Alberta. They are probably the most progressive on the issue out of all the provinces, because of the shortage of skilled drivers, and the support they have for their vets."
H2H is working with the Alberta government to have military driver’s credentials recognized.
So, in the future when vets retire and have their training fully documented, they will be given credit for that as a commercial license.
"If Alberta accepts that, we are hoping the other provinces will follow suit," said Matte.
"So, in addition to working with the teamsters, I am also working through the bureaucracy of all the licensing folks in each province through the CCMTA (Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators). We are hoping in the coming months, that we will see this accepted."
CCMTA is a non-profit organization made up of representatives of the provincial, territorial and federal governments, which makes decisions on administration and operational matters dealing with licensing, registration and control of motor vehicle transportation and highway safety.
Matte is already working with some of the larger concrete companies in Alberta on this initiative.
"I have already had the request from two or three companies that are working in the industry, but in particular Ready Mix trucks is one that comes to mind," he said. "Last year, they were looking for 30 vets to drive these ready mix trucks. It would have been a fantastic fit, but unfortunately none of these vets had the civilian equivalent. This was a missed opportunity and I don’t think they got the drivers they wanted."
The Canadian Trucking Alliance commissioned the Conference Board of Canada study titled "Understanding the Truck Driver Supply and Demand Gap and Implications for the Canadian Economy" in February 2013.
The study found the average truck driver is 44 years old, with 20 per cent being over the age of 54. This is older than the average Canadian worker, which is 40 years.
In terms of attracting young workers, only 12 per cent of for-hire drivers are under the age of 30.
In order to face these demographic pressures and fill the gap for new drivers, the study recommends the following measures should be taken: a significant improvement in industry working conditions and wages; mandatory entry level driver training and upgraded license standards to achieve a skilled occupation designation; a reorganization of trucking activity and supply chains, in order to reduce pressures on long-haul drivers and make better use of their time.