I have again been reading in the pages of this and other trade publications about the problems associated with sub-standard training entry level truck drivers are receiving from sub-standard “training” schools (i.e., puppy mills). The people who get hoodwinked into this process end up either not being able to get a driving job (and are likely to be turned off the industry forever) or if they do, it’s likely to be with a sub-standard carrier where they will continue to fall prey and contribute to the industry’s lowest common denominator.
This is not a new problem for our industry; the same complaints have been around for years. It’s a serious matter and with a chronic and growing driver shortage – the demographics of the driver population guarantee that – it’s likely to get worse, not better, as the industry scrambles to find warm bodies to fill the seats. (This is not a problem created by the ability to use “automatics” for the driving test as some have suggested).
Complaining about the problem is not solving anything. Something needs to be done.
There’s no shortage of ideas. You’ve heard them. Regulate the puppy mills out of business. Give the candidates coming out of the “regulated” training schools (or the schools themselves) preference when it comes to booking licence tests. While these suggestions might be helpful, they won’t – in my view – solve the problem.
So long as: anyone can challenge the commercial driver’s licence test without having undergone any training whatsoever; and so long as the commercial driver’s licence test itself falls short of establishing any sort of meaningful vocational benchmark, the industry will continue to be plagued by people seeking the quickest and cheapest way in. And, there will be those willing to assist them in doing so by offering just enough “training” to get the licence (and not all of those are what we would consider to be puppy mills. Perhaps at one time there were enough kids coming off the farms who were familiar with heavy machinery and were capable of stepping into the job without any formal training, but those days are long gone.
You can regulate the training schools all you want, but so long as they can offer various price-driven programs, you will still end up with varying degrees and levels of training.
What’s really needed is a requirement for some level of mandatory entry-level training BEFORE someone can take the commercial driver’s license test. This was perhaps the most provocative action item identified by the CTA Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage in Canada. It was also cited by the Conference Board of Canada in its report on the driver shortage and economic implications.
Mandatory entry-level training is seen as way to enhance the professionalism of the driving job and ultimately a necessary step for it to be deemed a skilled occupation. This in turn, it is felt, would improve the attractiveness of the occupation to younger people who are more than ever considering the trades or a position with some sort of designation. It is also a likely pre-requisite for a re-classification of truck driving from a non-skilled occupation for immigration purposes.
Finally, the introduction of mandatory entry-level training would ultimately drive changes to upgrade and enhance the commercial driver’s licence test befitting the vocation.
What that mandatory training will look like is something the industry – ie., the carriers – should determine. They are, after all, the customers of the driving schools and the people who will ultimately be doing the hiring and then providing the additional training and guidance needed to turn the new drivers into professionals.
Obviously, the carriers will need to work with others – the professional training schools, insurers, etc. – who have important expertise to offer as well as a stake in the final outcome. We have learned from experience (ie., Earning Your Wheels) that there is little point in developing a program that no one can afford to offer or to take. But the starting point – at least for my money – has to be for the carriers to define what it is they want and then work with the others from there. A lot of work has been done in this area already, so perhaps that part might not be as difficult as we might think.
The real challenges will likely – as always – be to achieve consensus within the industry and then to convince the provincial governments (who have jurisdiction in this area) to move in this direction. We need to find a way to get everyone pulling in the same direction on roughly the same timetable. And, of course there is the issue of money. The costs will need to be shared by the major stakeholders – the carriers, the trainees and government. But by improving the quality of the people coming into the industry, by making our economy more productive and our roads safer, the return on investment should be significant.