Lack of drivers could block Amazon’s rollout on Vancouver Island

The online retail giant is preparing to open its last-mile distribution center at Victoria International Airport, likely in early October, but a lack of delivery drivers presents a challenge

Amazon-branded delivery vans will soon be seen all over the capital region as the online retail giant prepares to open its last-mile distribution center at Victoria International Airport.

Ken Mayes’ company, Zenzen Logistics Canada, is one of two courier companies contracted by Amazon to operate approximately 120 vehicles that will transport parcels and packages from the warehouse to homes and businesses in Greater Victoria and the ‘island.

An unbranded Nanaimo-based courier company will handle larger packages over 40 kilograms.

Mayes said he was aware that hiring hundreds of drivers would be a difficult task amid the region’s tight labor market, where unemployment remains one of the lowest in the country at 4.9% on the month. last and companies are struggling to fill all types of jobs.

“It will be very difficult because of the job market,” Mayes said.

But he said the company would promote drive and dispatch opportunities in the coming weeks and months through job fairs and advertisements.

The positions are open to anyone over the age of 21 with a Class 5 driver’s license.

Zenzen Logistics drivers will earn at least $21 per hour and have access to a health plan. The pay rate is under review by Amazon. Amazon offers US employees healthcare packages and tuition reimbursement programs.

Amazon’s $65million fulfillment center is known as a ‘last mile’ sorting and shipping facility, where everything ordered on the island lands there and is delivered by various courier companies.

The 115,000 square foot building sits on 7.8 acres of land owned by the Victoria Airports Authority and was built by York Realty of Edmonton.

Amazon hasn’t revealed details of an official opening, but sources say it’s likely to be October 5. The company has been advertising dozens of positions for several weeks.

Mayes said that due to low unemployment, ZenZenLogistics is interested in targeting Ukrainian refugees for driving positions. He said the GPS systems will make it easier for newcomers to navigate the city, although they must hold a Class 5 BC driver’s license.

So far, few Ukrainian refugees on the island have obtained permits, according to Devon Goldie, president of the Ukrainian Cultural Center.

The center has taken in more than 500 refugees from the war-torn country, Goldie said, and another 200 have arrived on the island through family, friends or other means.

Goldie said refugees who are proficient in English will have no problem getting a learner’s permit or driver’s license, but it will take time. “It’s a tricky process” for the most part, she says.

The learner part of the test is not available in Ukrainian; it’s in Russian. Google translations, however, are not always accurate and lead to confusion, she said.

“When it comes time to do the road test, it has to be in English, and there’s no option to have a translator in the car,” Goldie said. “That’s the biggest challenge.”

Al Hasham, president and CEO of Maximum Express Courier, Freight and Logistics in Victoria, said Amazon’s fleet will face barriers to hiring drivers.

Hasham said his company delivered Amazon packages as a third party for overflows from courier companies such as Purolater and FedEx, but stuck to its own local customers. That way, he said, the company can only operate weekdays from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and provide its drivers with decent working hours — and better pay at around $23 a year. hour.

These working conditions allowed Hasham to keep his drivers an average of 12 to 13 years. “It’s very difficult to get good drivers – anyone these days,” he said.

Hasham said he lost four drivers due to recent cases of COVID-19 and had to pull drivers from family operations in Vancouver to cover the Victoria area. “I’ve been in business since 1987 and I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in hiring…it’s definitely been a low time,” he said.

Hasham said employees “want a life,” which means fair working hours and above-average wages.

Mayes set up a courier system for Amazon in the Winnipeg area and returned to Victoria with Zzenzen Logistics.

“We are going to employ 130 people here in Victoria and we want a range of ages, genders and religions in our workforce.”

Mayes estimates his fleet of 12-foot-long Ford Transit 250 vans will deliver between 4,000 and 7,000 packages a day, with peak times being the Christmas season.

Lynn A. Saleh