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New drivers traverse difficult road to employment


Harminder Singh obtained his A/Z licence a couple of weeks ago. He knew Canada is short about 27,000 commercial truck drivers so thought it should not be too difficult to land a job.

The 34-year-old driver trained on a manual transmission vehicle at a Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) member institution. He has seven years of experience driving a tractor-trailer in the Middle East. New licence in hand, Singh began applying for jobs.

But the brakes are still firmly set on his path to employment as most carriers are looking for drivers with Canadian experience who can haul loads into and from the U.S.

People standing in a room
From left, Meghi Saini, Surinder Batth, Harminder Singh and Lakhvir Singh at Global Trucking Academy in Brampton, Ont. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Many new drivers like Singh are in Canada on work permits and are neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents. Unlike Canadians who can show up at the U.S. border, present their passport and are allowed to enter, these drivers require a visa.

Truck drivers should apply for a B-1/B-2 visa, a spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa told TruckNews.com. Visitor visas are non-immigrant visas for persons who want to enter the U.S. temporarily for business (B-1), for tourism (B-2), or for a combination of both purposes (B-1/B-2).

Long wait times for visa interviews

An in-person interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate general is part of the process and wait times are 18 months and longer in some cases. A check reveals wait times of 676 calendar days at the embassy in Ottawa, 680 days at the consulate general in Toronto, 562 days in Calgary, 652 days in Halifax and 562 days in Vancouver.

“Applicants with urgent travel needs who meet certain criteria, including urgent business (including truckers), humanitarian, or medical criteria, can apply for an expedited appointment,” the U.S. embassy official said, adding that requests are considered on a case-by-case basis.

“We recognize the wait time for an in-person interview for a visitor visa at our embassy and consulates in Canada has a direct impact on applicants. We are committed to reducing this wait time as efficiently and quickly as possible while upholding our national security responsibilities,” the official said.

Expedited appointment

Gordie Atwood, driver retention and recruitment at Eassons Transport, says he tells his drivers to first book a U.S. visa interview appointment and then apply for an expedited appointment while explaining why they require it. “Usually, they receive an appointment in the next 60 days or so in Halifax,” says Atwood, who is based in Kentville, N.S.

Surinder Batth, director of Global Truck Academy in Brampton, Ont., where driver Singh completed his training, says sometimes a driver can secure an earlier visa interview appointment if there are cancellations.

Another hurdle newly licensed drivers face is experience. Most carriers require at least one year’s experience.

“How can one accumulate experience if no one is hiring?”

Meghi Saini, newly licensed truck driver

Meghi Saini, 23, got her licence a month ago and is not yet employed as a truck driver. She says she’s applied for jobs at about 20 carriers, and all are asking for experience. “How can one accumulate experience if no one is hiring?” she asks.

She’s hoping to join her partner as a team driver. He has been driving for a year. “Everyone says there is a shortage of drivers but there are a large number of unemployed new drivers. I don’t get it, it’s so hard,” she says.

Carriers have their reasons and the main one is insurance.

Insurance considerations

Lisa Arseneau, trucking specialist/producer at Staebler Insurance says a newly licensed driver will almost never be insured on a non-fleet policy, where typically a company has less than 15 units.

Carriers with fleet policies can hire new drivers, but with a caveat that they have robust onboarding, finishing, or mentoring programs.

“Some non-fleet operators have been choosing to go to the Facility Association. They are willing to pay three to four times more premium so they can have a new driver behind the wheel,” Arseneau says.

It’s not all doom and gloom and some carriers TruckNews.com spoke to are hiring new drivers, but with conditions.

Some carriers are hiring

Rob Swyntak, safety and recruiting manager at Blenheim, Ont.-based, SM Freight says they hire new drivers on a case-by-case basis. The driver will be put into a mentoring program and trained.

Eassons Transport also recruits new drivers, Atwood says. In Atlantic Canada a four-week internship at a carrier is part of the 12-week training program.

Atwood says the company interviews a student and provides a letter of intent if all criteria are met. Then the student can begin driving training at the school.

Affiliated school provides new drivers

Musket Transport based in Mississauga, Ont., also hires new drivers says Sophia Sniegowski Begidzhanov, corporate communications officer. Driver supply is maintained by hiring graduates from its affiliated school, Commercial Heavy Equipment Training (CHET).

Begidzhanov says those drivers typically do city work and Montreal runs so that they build stamina for driving longer distances. This allows them time to apply for and obtain a U.S. visa if required.

On the West Coast, new drivers are finding work quickly, says Amrit Grewal, owner and instructor, Sarabha Driving School in Langley, B.C.

“There is a shortage of longhaul drivers as most people want local work,” he says.

Manraj, who trained at the school and passed his commercial driving test three months ago, is already on the road working as a longhaul team driver with his father.

In Ontario, things are not as rosy. Global Truck Academy’s Batth says in 2021 he used to get many calls from carriers inquiring about drivers training at his school. Those have dried up as the trucking economy slowed down. But he is optimistic things will turn around in summer.

The struggle

As time drags on without working at jobs they were trained for, the new drivers are struggling to make ends meet.

Saini ferries passengers for a ride-share company. Singh also drives for a ride-share company. As the income does not suffice, he supplements his income with a manual labor job preloading trailers at a warehouse.

“It is hard, exhausting work. I have experience and training. I hope someone hires me quickly,” Singh says.

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