Alberta program helps women fill empty truck driving seats, get ahead in life

“Our province is stronger when more women are in the driver’s seat, and through funding like this, we can help women gain meaningful employment and help continue Alberta’s impressive economic momentum.”

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Thanks to a $2.78-million grant, an innovative program will continue to strengthen Alberta’s transportation sector and help women find a place in the trucking industry.

Women Building Futures was started more than 25 years ago by social workers helping single moms living in poverty become carpenters, said Carol Moen, president and CEO.

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“Those women all built resilient careers that they were able to not only support themselves on but ultimately support their children on, and so that model over a relatively short period of time morphed to providing women exposure to multiple trades,” Moen said.

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“We work with them to remove the barriers in between themselves and economic security.”

Just one in 25 Canadian truck drivers are women and, in Alberta, that’s more like one in 33.

“When they move into these fields, they’re incredibly underrepresented, so stepping into any of those roles, trades or transportation in a competent way is really, really important,” she said.

WBF gets women ready for the trades — and they get the trades ready for women employees, with a certification program for companies to hire out of their programs in Edmonton and Calgary.

“Our work overall is ultimately, over time, just going to make the transportation industry a better industry,” Moen said.

A second generation of clients is finding training for new careers in the program, with daughters following in the footsteps of their mothers.

Last month, a mother and daughter went through the training together.

WBF is expanding to Saskatoon and Regina with the support of an Australian mining company that has a big Saskatchewan project underway. The city of Sarnia in western Ontario is next.

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women trucker
Rachel Benson, a Women Building Futures alumnus who drives for Rosenau Transport, works on hooking a trailer to a semi-truck on March 18, 2024, in Edmonton. Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

Graduates speak

Sierra Lybbert, a WBF professional Class 1 driver graduate and a dispatcher at Caron Transportation Systems, said she quickly realized she’d found a career and a company to last her a lifetime.

“With so much room to grow and the ever-increasing demand for Class 1 drivers, I look forward to seeing many more women be given the opportunity of a lifetime I received. It changed my life more than I could ever describe, and I know it will change many more,” Lybbert said.

Georgina Daub drives a Super B, hauling two trailers of up to 80,000 litres of fuel — just over 80 feet long with a gross weight of 63,500 kg — for the Kenan Advantage Group.

She was 50 when she went through the WBF program. She advises women to head for the trades for better job satisfaction and better choices.

Women shouldn’t let age hold them back. Entering the field as a more experienced worker made it easier, Daub said.

“I think my age has definitely helped with that, because I’m comfortable in my skin. I’m not trying to prove anything,” she said.

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When Rachel Benson’s children were small, she drove a school bus part time. Her children could ride along, so she didn’t have to pay for daycare.

Before that, she was in construction, and it seemed like half of her paycheque went to daycare.

She got her trucking licence through WBF in 2021, and went to work for Rosenau Transport.

“WBF was a miracle in my life. I never would have thought to get my Class 1 license because the cost to go do that — $10,000 — was unattainable,” Benson said.

She does city pickup and delivery. Her single-axle Freightliner is well over 50 feet long.

The colour-coordinated baby blue sock monkey in one window gets her a friendly wave from families.

“I’m out and about, I’m seeing different places, different people. I still have the freedom to stop where I want for my breaks. I have the privacy of being in my own little office all day long. I don’t have to deal with an office setting, with people around me 24/7,” she said.

Benson is proud of her role getting the world’s goods from point A to point B.

“It’s huge. It’s logistics, and it’s becoming more important,” she said.

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There are different kinds of routes in the trade. Some involve lifting and unloading, others where you stay in your truck and someone else unloads.

“As you get older, you’re able to ask for different routes that are more suitable to your needs,” she said.

“I could see myself retiring doing this job. There’s a lot of drivers here and out there on the roads that do this up until they retire.”

Addressing gaps

The two-year provincial grant will expand training opportunities for women in commercial transportation.

Not unlike other skilled trades, the transportation industry faces a retirement gap in coming years. The COVID-19 pandemic showed the critical need for efficient, reliable and timely transportation.

A shortage of skilled drivers affects the supply chain and creates inflationary pressures.

The investment from Alberta Transportation and Economic Corridors will help ensure women can fully participate in the province’s growing economy, said Arts, Culture and Status of Women Minister Tanya Fir.

The program helps women fill empty truck driving seats and get ahead in life, Fir said.

The average starting wage for WBF graduates is 1.3 times a living wage.

Last year 180 women graduated from their programs.

At least 90 per cent of the women who entered the programs graduated, and about 90 per cent of those were employed in a field directly related to their training within six months.

An estimated 55 to 60 per cent of WBF funding comes from government, and the balance is mostly through private sector investment.

Some 60 per cent of the students require additional financial support to stay in the program for rent, childcare or food.

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