TORONTO, Ont. – Last year, Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU), together with industry, adopted a 200-hour curriculum for aspiring professional truck drivers.
The objective was laudable; to ensure prospective truck drivers would receive the in-depth training necessary to be immediately employable and ready to contribute upon their arrival into the industry.
So why is it then, that poorly trained and ill-prepared A/Z licence holders continue to show up at carriers’ doors for road tests? That’s the million-dollar question that reputable training institutions, and the carriers looking for new drivers, want to know.
Guy Broderick is a professional driver and road-tester for a Brampton, Ont.-based fleet.
He regularly sees licensed drivers show up for a road test who have clearly had little or no proper training on their way to acquiring an A/Z licence.
“You can tell within the first five minutes,” he said. “You can tell from the way they open the hood, if they’re opening it from the side. There are only so many engine manufacturers out there. If they can’t find the dipstick, you know there’s a problem right off the bat.”
Indeed, the current road test required to get an A/Z licence in Ontario doesn’t even require the applicant to open the hood as part of the pre-trip inspection process.
Broderick also has seen the local training schools in action, sometimes with as many as four people crammed inside a day cab as they navigate the road test route in preparation for their tests.
The issue of poorly trained driving job applicants also came up at last year’s Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) convention. Rob Penner, chief operating officer with Bison Transport said at the time the company was hiring just nine of 100 applicants. “The quality of the applicant is scary,” Penner said.
Speaking on the same panel, Jeff Bryan Transport president, and current OTA chair Jeff Bryan, said drivers coming out of some schools lack even the most fundamental skills.
“We’ve noticed we’ve got a whack of drivers that don’t know how to read a map properly, or how to plug in the correct information in the GPS,” Bryan said.
Many of these ill-prepared drivers arrive at fleets’ doors having received little training from unregistered schools, which charge as little as $500 and teach drivers only what’s required to pass the provincial road test.
It’s a far cry from the 200-hour curriculum developed by the province and administered by MTCU-registered training schools. By contrast, the vocational schools can cost as much as $8,000 to $12,000, but they train prospective drivers on all the skills required of a professional driver.
Yvette Lagrois, president of the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) and vice-president of Ontario Truck Training Academy blames in part, the loosening of road test requirements to allow automatic transmissions and to be conducted in less than an hour.
“When MTO extended automatic testing for new drivers from just the senior drivers, non-registered schools started on the upswing as the ease of testing at DriveTest was not the qualifier for the industry,” Lagrois said. “This now transfers the problem to the company level without a proper filter for quality control of entry-level drivers reaching a company.”
Unregistered schools, in some cases, will teach students how to adequately navigate the course used by DriveTest Centres for A/Z road tests and little else.
“The road test has come down to basically being a one-hour limit per person and we have this checklist mentality, where we have non-registered schools saying ‘We’ll match, word-for-word, the checklist,’ but not create a qualified candidate to be employed in the industry,” Lagrois said.
Rick Geller, a trucking insurance veteran and senior safety services rep with Old Republic, agreed.
“They’re teaching them to pass the road test as opposed to how to drive trucks,” he said.
Students are drawn to the unregistered training schools because of the low price of admittance and quick turnaround.
However, Lagrois said they’re clogging the DriveTest Centres and creating waiting periods averaging, at some centres, 40 days even for those who’ve invested the time and money in taking the 200-hour training program through a registered vocational school.
The TTSAO is now in talks with the Ministry of Transportation, in hopes graduates of a bona-fide truck training school will get preferential treatment and have access to a road test in a more timely manner than those who have attended an unregistered school.
Even those grads of an unregistered school who pass their road test and acquire an A/Z licence are often not employable, so the clogging of the system does the industry no good in the end, Lagrois added. Geller agreed.
“These unregistered schools undermine the good work that people are trying to accomplish, in producing a safe driver and one who has a better understanding and is ready to go into the industry,” Geller said.
“These ones that are being cranked out for $500 are of no value to the industry. The only people they present value to are the unregistered schools that pocket the $500. That’s the gap that’s been built into the system.”
Sadly, many people who’ve chosen a low-cost, unregistered school did so thinking they’d be guaranteed a job upon completion of the program, Lagrois said.
“They are being led down a garden pathway, thinking that at the end of the A/Z licence that there’s going to be a job waiting for them, when they may not even be able to be insured,” Lagrois said.
But that’s not to say all of them end up back where they began. Some do get hired on, which in some respects is scarier, Geller pointed out.
“It would be wrong to say that nobody will hire them,” Geller said. “Certainly, no reputable trucking company will hire them. But it’s wrong to say they can’t ever get jobs. It’s just that they tend to be victimized again, because now they’re going to be working for what amounts to indentured servitude, because they have no other options. A reputable trucking company won’t touch them, so now they can be victimized again by that substandard carrier. I can’t believe every one of these guys that goes to an unregistered school is sitting somewhere in an unemployment lineup.”
Lagrois said unregistered schools take what could potentially be a productive employee, in a driver-starved industry, and waste the opportunity to mold them into a skilled professional who can make a contribution. With so few people entering the profession, Lagrois said the long-term damage being perpetuated by these schools is significant.
“For every downtrodden person, there’s someone who can make use of them, especially with a driver shortage. But what we’re looking at is, are they meeting their potential? We have to maximize the drivers we do produce. If anything, this is about making sure we damned well develop the potential coming through to qualified candidates,” Lagrois said. “Can’t we use our resources better?”
She also pointed out a 200-hour course acts as a “venting system” to identify and wean out those who aren’t a fit for a career in trucking.
Carriers looking for good drivers should consider partnering up with an MTCU-registered school, and asking applicants where they received their training, Lagrois and Geller advise.
“Ask for some specifics when they say they’ve received training,” Geller suggested. “Ask some specific questions; how many hours behind the wheel? How many hours in the classroom?”
“Know the school they’re accepting drivers from,” Lagrois added. “That’s an easy one.”
Belonging to an organization like TTSAO or the PTDI is usually an indicator that a training school adheres to an established curriculum, she added.
Also, the MTCU lists a directory of registered training schools on its Web site, making unregistered schools easy to identify by process of elimination.