It was great news to see Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau and his provincial cohorts promise a national training standard for entry-level truck drivers by next year.
Raising the bar for driver skills and professionalism can only help the industry attract better candidates in the future. By all accounts, Ontario’s mandatory entry-level training (MELT) program — the only mandated program in the country — is working. It’s producing drivers who are better prepared for life on the road, while weeding out the dud applicants who show up for interviews.
Success is by no means a sure thing. There’s a risk that this federal legislation turns into political pandering as a reaction to Humboldt. And relying on Prime Minister Trudeau for help during an election year when he’s fighting for his political life is a mistake.
But we have to start somewhere. I believe this standard can be the first step on the road to producing safer, more qualified truck drivers in this country.
Something to build upon
Reducing expensive new-hire churn is one of the many benefits of MELT. It gives carriers more confidence about investing in driver training because there’s a better chance that newbies will stick around.
I talked to a few progressive fleets that are using mandatory training as a foundation for their own four-year journeyman apprentice-like programs. New hires start in the office and over the next two years work at every job except the one inside a truck cab. Not only are the carriers developing well-rounded workers, they ultimately turn out truck drivers who have a better understanding of the business and the industry when they get behind the wheel.
The same can happen at the federal level.
I fell off my chair laughing when I heard that the legislation would require “at least 103.5 hours of instruction to cover the knowledge and skills needed to safely operate a large truck.”
I don’t know where they came up with such an off-the-wall number, but that’s basically two weeks of driver training. Most of the truckers I spoke with think it’s woefully short but don’t want to be negative under the circumstances. I’m in agreement that there is not a hope in hell that anyone can safely operate a truck after 103.5 hours. Even more reason for carriers to supplement the requirement in this legislation with a solid in-house training program.
Enforcement and policing
This training standard will be put to the test when it comes time to enforce it. Currently in Ontario, training falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Unfortunately, like too many government agencies, it is painfully understaffed and overwhelmed.
I spoke with many legitimate training schools that haven’t been audited in years and are concerned that more resources are being allocated for policing. It’s the main reason why some industry insiders believe that self-policing is the only way to give the legislation any teeth.
Training school dilemma
Anticipating an influx of business (and to hide Driver Inc.), new training schools are popping up all over the country. Many are non-registered and are backed by carriers that aren’t interested in training drivers to make the roads safer but to make sure they pass their driving test. I’m also concerned about how easy it is to become a trainer. I was blown away to learn that you can get your truck driver’s licence one day and be teaching people the very next day.
Yes, there’s work to be done, but big kudos to the Canadian Trucking Alliance for keeping the process moving. If you have ideas, or an opinion, your provincial trucking association is one way to make sure the next steps we take are toward a standard that works for everyone. If you haven’t joined up, what are you waiting for?
Mike McCarron is the president of Left Lane Associates, a firm that creates total enterprise value for transportation companies and their owners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-551-6651, or @AceMcC on Twitter.
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