MELT is a baseline, not a finish line

Would-be truck drivers can expect more time with their trainers in B.C.

Canada’s westernmost province is the latest jurisdiction to officially establish mandatory entry-level training standards for truck drivers, and has set a higher threshold in the process. Before earning a licence, the province’s trainees must spend at least 140 hours in classrooms and with instructors. The standards require 15.5 hours of air brake training, essentially doubling the hours required under the National Safety Code.

Critics will be quick to pounce, arguing that truck drivers can’t possibly learn everything they need to know within 140 hours. And they’re absolutely right. Such training is designed to focus on the basics at the most. It is merely the first step in a training journey.

truck driver training
(Photo: John G. Smith)

But many critics are also absolutely wrong to believe entry-level benchmarks will ever be high enough to meet all the needs. Only practice will make perfect, whether it involves driving, paperwork, or interactions with shippers.

If we’re honest with ourselves, none of us were ready for our first jobs when we emerged from school. No matter the level of reading, hands-on training, internships or mentorships, the real learning began once we were officially on the job. At some point, the training needs to extend into the real world. It’s the point where mandatory entry-level training comes to an end.

That’s where employers come in. Or, at least, that’s where they should come in.

The problem is not the level of training needed to earn a licence, but with the fleets and owner-operators who think they can simply flip a set of keys to a newly minted driver and send them on their way, especially when the trip involves equipment or loads the driver has never seen before.

We saw the results of that in the tragic collision of a truck and Humboldt Broncos team bus, which has become one of the touchstones in the call for stricter training standards and a push for some mandatory entry-level standards across Canada.

The problem is with sub-standard schools – the so-called “licensing mills” that such standards were meant to eliminate – which use remaining loopholes to deliver fewer training hours or alter the certificates meant to confirm training time.

And the problem is with the limited enforcement and oversight in jurisdictions that allow such schools to operate, not to mention examiners who seem to apply their own perspectives to any presented standards.

The most effective solution of all would have less to do with the training schools than the licensing process itself.

Picture a graduated licensing program that would limit the type of equipment a new driver could operate, allowing them only to progress to the next level if they can prove a specific amount of time on the job. Some mandated and task-specific training could help too.

Even this approach isn’t without its flaws. Some drivers can learn required skills in less time than their peers. Other drivers will never master the nuances of specialized equipment. If entry-level training barriers are set too high, before drivers can begin to make a living, candidates may even decide to explore other career paths. Then there’s the matter of getting every jurisdiction to agree on a single approach. As for the thresholds that would exist between graduated licensing layers? Where exactly should they be set?

The answers are not easy, but the questions are important. They’ll lead the next steps in a journey that begins with mandatory entry-level training.

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • I agree and transport companies need to come to the table and commit at least 1 cent per loaded km to a fund to train new drivers from Canada and agree to minimum level of safe guard to protect truck drivers. Also have a min level of pay based on experience

  • The Humboldt involved driver had a legal licence – the court case determined that a major factor was inadequate training – apparently it was enough for him to pass a road test. So why is the Province and testing not on trial.
    “loopholes” mentioned in your article for the “licensing mills” are a problem that goes away if we raise the skill and knowledge level required to pass the road test.
    The minimum required to get a licence is just too low – raise the bar and the “schools” will have to raise their training. As long as the test is a joke – we will have some providing only the minimum needed.

  • “Picture a graduated licensing program that would limit the type of equipment a new driver could operate, allowing them only to progress to the next level if they can prove a specific amount of time on the job.”

    That’s just a ridiculous notion on its very face. Essentially what is being said is that carriers now have to have straight trucks, and find straight truck work, so they can hire newly licensed drivers.
    Where is all this straight truck work going to come from?
    If there is so much of it available, why aren’t the roads full of straight trucks instead of tractor trailers?

    The biggest problem, as Ron Klicka points out, is that the bar for obtaining a Class A license is so low that it is quite simply laughable.
    The standard over the years has declined from “You have proven yourself worthy and knowledgeable, so here is your license.” to “Hey, you gave it a good try so here is your license.”.
    Add to that the more experience you have, the tougher the practical examine is. Ask any experienced driver that has recently taken the practical test and any new driver that has done the same and you will find there is no equity in the tests. New drivers are given considerable latitude, and experienced drivers are given none. Why is there a difference?