TORONTO, Ont. — As the career of David Bradley as the long-running leader of the Ontario Trucking Association and Canadian Trucking Alliance winds down, he’ll be remembered, among other things, for his candour and honesty.
Those traits were on display this week when he sat down with Truck News publisher and editorial director Lou Smyrlis to discuss his time in the industry and some of its most pressing issues today, during an interview in front of a packed house at the inaugural OTA Council Summit.
Asked what prompted his impending retirement after 30 years in the industry, Bradley said, “We had a good run. We have a good team of younger folks. The industry is changing for the better, I think, and it’s time for some new ideas.”
Bradley recalled his early years in the industry, when he said trucking was perceived as an old boys’ club and not really an industry at all, and marveled at how it has evolved over the years.
“I do think when I first came on-board it was very much a closed shop and sort of a club and it was easy to make money,” he said. “It’s had to change and had to turn itself around on a dime so many times.”
He commended truckers for their ability to adapt.
“I can’t imagine a more difficult business than trucking, when you consider all the factors at play you have to deal with on a daily basis,” Bradley said. “Yet people still love it and you survive it and that’s amazing. There are a lot easier ways, I’m sure, to make a living but the people in this industry are really special and that is what has kept me going.”
But Bradley didn’t shy away from offering a frank assessment of what is the cause of, and potential solution to, some of the industry’s biggest problems, including the shortage of qualified drivers. Bradley said the impending driver shortage was apparent to him during his first days on the job 30 years ago.
“It’s a very difficult problem,” he said. “Trucking is a very fragmented business, a hyper-competitive business that has had no price leadership to speak of for the last 30 years. We’ve passed on all the efficiency and productivity gains the industry has made to the customer and that’s what deregulation was supposed to be all about, and in that sense it has worked. It has increased competition and kept transportation costs low.”
However, Bradley said he’s encouraged to see a change in attitude within the industry.
“I think particularly in the past 10 years we’ve started to make some strides in terms of being a little more honest with ourselves within the industry in terms of where the problem is, and ultimately where the solution is, and I think in both cases the problem and the solution is in this room,” he said to the crowd of about 300 trucking industry leaders. “Nobody else is going to fix it for us.”
He said fleets need to look at their investments in human capital the same way they traditionally have invested in equipment and facilities.
Asked why the trucking industry has had little success in becoming deemed a skilled occupation, Bradley again urged the industry to look in the mirror.
“When I drive down the highway and I see a trailer with a sticker on it advertising for truck drivers and saying ‘No education required,’ that is not indicative off a skilled, or even semi-skilled occupation,” he said. “We don’t have any compulsory training required. You can walk in off the street and take a Class A test…that is not indicative of a skilled occupation. The fact we don’t have a formal ongoing lifetime training program is not indicative of a skilled occupation.”
He said things will improve as a result of Ontario’s coming mandatory entry-level training (MELT) program.