The wheels are in motion to make commercial truck driver a designated occupation in Manitoba -- the first such occupational designation in the province and the first for truck drivers in the country.
The agreement by the province's Apprenticeship and Certification Board to develop a commercial truck driver designation comes on the heels of a Conference Board of Canada report this week that warns the trucking industry may face a gap between supply and demand for truck drivers of more than 30,000 by 2020.
The move to create an industry certification in Manitoba is seen as one element needed to aid in the recruitment and retention of truck drivers.
The Conference Board report, called Understanding the Truck Driver Supply and Demand Gap and its Implications for the Canadian Economy, notes truckers are aging faster than the rest of the workforce and considering the role the trucking industry plays as a primary service provider, the coming shortage affect the entire economy.
"We are seeing a driver-capacity crunch today," said Terry Shaw, the general manager of the Manitoba Trucking Association.
"There are companies struggling to attract, retain and employ long-haul truck drivers."
Some might say the industry has been in a perpetual state of driver shortage, but Shaw and conference board author Vijay Gill say the recent sluggish economy has dampened the relative impact of the shortage.
"I would suggest since the economy is in a bit of a lull the shortages may not be critical at this point," Shaw said. "But based on what we are seeing in terms of current driver demographics and what we are expecting in terms of an economic rebound, in about seven years there will be significant shortage."
The conference board notes the $17-billion national trucking industry -- worth about $1 billion to the Manitoba economy -- plays a significant role in the country's trade competitiveness, resulting in more goods being available at lower prices for consumers.
"This makes the health of the trucking industry freight transportation networks an issue of importance for Canadian competitiveness," the report states.
Gill said the industry has been beating this drum of driver shortages for a while. But he said east-west rail shipments may be maxing out and north-south long-haul truck shipments are becoming more crucial because of a lack of a linear rail route.
"Also the age cohort relative to the rest of the labour force has gotten worse over the last 10-to-15 years," Gill said.
"There is a problem across the board but it is worse in trucking."
The report suggests that although Manitoba and Saskatchewan have the highest proportion of drivers reaching retirement age, relatively strong immigration levels are expected to help relieve that burden and driver population may be less dramatically affected here.
Companies have had challenges recruiting drivers for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the profession has never had any official standing.
Creating a certification process and making it a designated occupation won't be a magic bullet but provincial and industry officials believe it won't hurt.
Paul Holden, the executive director of Apprenticeship Manitoba, said there is consensus that there would be a benefit in having a recognized standard within Manitoba that an individual will be able to take with them throughout their career.
"Everyone is saying it makes sense to be able to have a clear set of standards to go and train individuals and actively participate in the labour market as truck drivers," he said.
"The other thing is the individual is now going to get a formal credential, which is very different from the way the industry operated in the past."
Shaw said all the national and provincial trucking associations are all working together to try to standardize these credentials.
"When people engage in that approved program they will come out with some minimum certified training, they will be a known commodity to industry," he said.
"It's our hope the industry will gravitate to hiring people with the certification. Hopefully, it will open some doors up and provide some market cache."
33,100 -- the potential supply and demand gap of truck drivers in Canada in 2020
900 -- the potential supply and demand gap for drivers in Manitoba in 2020
2 per cent -- the increase in the age of workers in all occupations in Canada between 1996 and 2006
3.7 per cent -- the increase in the age of truck drivers in Canada between 1996 and 2006
310,000 -- number of truck drivers in Canada in 2011
15,000 -- number of truck drivers in Manitoba (estimate)
$925 -- average weekly wage for truck drivers in Canada in 2011
$1,250 -- weekly wage for truck drivers in Alberta in 2011
$910 -- weekly wage for truck drivers in Manitoba in 2011
-- source: Conference Board of Canada