SASKATOON, Sask. — Recent statistic show that in 2016 there were 315 truck drivers who spoke a Cree language, and the numbers have been in decline for the last 15 years.
More truck drivers in Canada speak Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, or Creole languages than do Cree. Compare that to the number of Punjabi and Hindi speaking drivers, which numbers 35,085 in total, and it puts the lack of Aboriginal drivers in perspective.
With the well-documented shortage of qualified drivers in Canada, and North America as whole, Indigenous workers are clearly an untapped resource for many in the industry.
But that does not mean this group has gone totally unnoticed.
Northern Resource Trucking (NRT) is one carrier looking to entice more Indigenous workers into the industry. Launched in 1986, the company was originally structured as a partnership between the Lac La Ronge Indian Band of La Ronge, Sask., with a 51% share, and Trimac Transportation with 49%. In 1995, the partnership expanded to include northern Indigenous and Metis communities.
At present, NRT is 71% Indigenous-owned, many of the owners representing the northern communities impacted by the development of the uranium industry.
Wendy Featherstone is the human resources manager for NRT, and she said there are several challenges when it comes to recruiting Indigenous workers into the industry.
“One of the easiest ways to get into trucking is by having a family member as a truck driver, or having trucking as a necessary part of an associated business, like farming or construction,” said Featherstone. “The more exposure people have to trucking and mechanics, the easier it is to learn the business and pass the required training and tests. Even obtaining a truck to take the road test can be a barrier for people.”
Featherstone said for Indigenous Peoples, trucking has historically not been a traditional industry in their culture, and the only way to learn and experience what it’s all about is through training, which is expensive.
Northern Resource, however, has been proactive in this area, creating its own training school based out of La Ronge.
“We have had hundreds of students graduate through our training program, and it increases the pool of drivers available,” said Featherstone, “not only to NRT, but to other companies in northern Saskatchewan, as well.”
Deb Steel, news director for the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta, said the most important thing when it comes to attracting Indigenous Peoples to industries like trucking is relationship building, as well as knowing which groups are already working with those communities.
“If there is a need in an Indigenous community, there is a group trying to fill that need,” said Steel. “Take for instance, Women Building Futures, a company that trains women in the trades and industry professions. From the grassroots to the corporate level, like the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, a simple call will get you a referral to the right source and qualified, trained and experienced staff. And that call might just open up other opportunities for your business.”
Steel said relationship building with Indigenous communities has been happening for some time.
“They won’t be starting from scratch or inventing the wheel,” Steel said. “There are huge benefits to this relationship building. If your head is in the place where you are willing to learn about working with Indigenous populations, then there are plenty of folks who will help guide that effort.”