Prepare to be Schooled

A Class 1/A licence falls well short of proving that someone is ready to work as a truck driver. Ask any industry recruiter. Hang around a busy loading dock long enough, and you’ll likely have the chance to pick up a few extra dollars from frustrated newbies, all eager to hand the keys to someone who can actually reverse into tight spaces. This is especially true for people who, with a minimal amount of training, managed to learn just enough to earn the licence itself.

It’s why fleets should applaud recent efforts to raise the minimum training standards for entry-level drivers.

Up to this point, many efforts have been voluntary. Programs in Manitoba and Atlantic Canada offer strong examples of such regional initiatives. Other voluntary training programs have come and gone. The challenge is that some fleets will always be willing to hire anyone who can fog a mirror, despite the better training that might exist.

Ontario leads the latest charge for minimum standards, and has just accepted the final comments on plans to introduce Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT). South of the border, plans have been unveiled for a mandated minimum of 30 hours of training at the wheel, some classroom time, and demonstrated “proficiency” at the job.

As promising as recent announcements may be, any future successes will be hiding in the details. The time spent in a training environment is not nearly as important as what would-be drivers are expected to learn and demonstrate.  It’s why clearly described and measureable learning outcomes are so important. The National Occupational Standards developed by Trucking HR Canada, and support of the nation’s largest trucking associations, offer a great place to start. (Full disclosure: Before taking this job, I was involved in cross-country consultations on the standards.)

Ontario’s first draft fell well short of the measureable outcomes, but it’s a draft. We’ll judge the final results once they’re published.

Tougher to answer is the question of training that should be left to employers.

No entry-level training program will show a driver everything that they need to know. There are just too many types of jobs and equipment variations to consider.

On the surface, this issue appears easy to address. Simply leave specialized training to a fleet. Hauling dangerous goods? A driver will clearly need a Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG) certificate. Operating a Long Combination Vehicle, tanker or B-train? Drivers will need to know how such equipment affects vehicle dynamics before steering into trouble. A fleet’s unique policies and procedures are perfect examples of training to be addressed during onboarding activities.

But the definition of “specialized” training needs is broader than many people realize. Drivers in Saskatchewan may never need to use tire chains. Other expertise is traced to specific cargo, such as livestock, refrigerated goods and oversized loads. Many Canadian drivers never stray across the international border that requires an understanding of Customs procedures. This doesn’t make them lesser truck drivers. It just makes them different.

Other training needs will evolve over time, just like the equipment that drivers operate. The driver of any late-model truck, for example, will need to understand where to pour Diesel Exhaust Fluid.

One of the most contentious issues of all is whether new drivers should know how to work their way through a manual transmission. Long-time drivers say it is a must. But we can’t ignore the fact that many drivers will now work their entire career without double clutching. Advances in automation (see page 38) mean that gear changes are increasingly being left to electronics.

Maybe it’s not too absurd to suggest that knowing how to work an automated transmission is enough. Look at our Truck of the Month on page 54. There was a time when every truck had twin sticks like that one. How many drivers need to shift a truck like that today?

Whatever benchmarks are ultimately set – or however we identify drivers who have mastered additional skills — it’s safe to say that it’s time to raise the standard that exists. Even if it allows for automation.

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, Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.


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