On Feb. 22, the Ontario government posted proposal number 16-MT0014 concerning Mandatory Entry-Level Training, or MELT, as we have come to know it. The summary of proposal contained the following statement: “The introduction of mandatory training, in addition to the testing requirements, is designed to ensure that commercial truck drivers are properly trained before they are licensed.”
Much will be made of this statement by all involved. It implies that MELT is a solution to the lack of driver training that currently exists across the trucking industry. It is not. It is merely the first step down the road. Why is that so?
Because the proposal closes with the following statement: “This proposal is not designed to impose new training obligations on existing Class A driver’s licence holders.”
Now I’m not saying that MELT is not needed. It definitely is. But existing licence-holders don’t receive any training as a result of this proposal and new drivers will face an expectation from employers and the travelling public that they are far more competent than their predecessors.
As professional drivers, we should not allow the public, or our carriers, to perceive that MELT is the solution to fix everything that is wrong with driver training and truck safety.
I spent three years as a mentor to graduates of a few different truck driving academies.
Those new drivers received excellent entry-level training. But what really mattered to those drivers was to be hired by a reputable employer and to put their newfound skills into practice under the tutelage of an experienced driver in real-world situations.
To these drivers, entry-level training is just that, a foot in the door to a new and exciting chapter in their lives. Why doesn’t the industry exploit this incredible learning opportunity?
Probably because it is so labour-intensive and difficult to envision beyond the expense line on a company’s operating statement.
The program I was able to put together with the help of my employer was based on the knowledge I had garnered through numerous training courses and experience as a manager and business owner prior to my rebirth as a trucker.
I spent a minimum of three months with each new driver. The first month was demonstrate and repeat, repeat, repeat, increasing the challenges in the training process day-by-day and discussing skills in detail.
It was a period to develop trust and comfort in the cab. The second month saw drivers taking full responsibility under my supervision, asking for support as they needed it.
The third month saw the addition of some extreme driving conditions in which we reverted to the demonstrate and repeat, repeat, repeat model of the first month, but now the new driver was instilled with a level of confidence and a stronger skill set to cope with the challenges.
It was a program that was very well received by the new recruits and my employer.
But at the end of three years, I was of the mind that no single individual or single carrier can carry on this intense level of training in perpetuity without broad support from across the industry.
Ironically this is how the MELT program has been developed.
To act as a mentor is to serve as a trusted counselor or teacher, especially in occupational settings.
Safety is embodied by an intense period of mentoring provided by professional driver-trainers that make permanent the skills drivers have learned through introductory training. Practice only makes perfect if a learned skill is repeated under the supervision of a qualified coach and mentor.
That process needs to be institutionalized across the trucking industry. Now is the time for professional drivers to step up and take possession of this critical file.
Road safety is a driver issue; drivers own it. Drivers should be involved heavily in every step of the training process and its development.
The answer as to how drivers will accomplish this is straightforward. Get involved. But we can’t do it as individuals, we have to take on this challenge as a group. Therein lies the hurdle drivers have been unable to overcome, because we not only have to bring our skills together as a group but we then have to interact with carriers, enforcement, training institutions and legislative bodies.
That’s a huge task and is usually met with people throwing up their arms and saying it can’t be done.
But it can be done in four distinct stages: 1) MELT; 2) mentoring for three to six months; 3) team driving for a period of one year; 4) remedial/ongoing training developed by all partners and made available universally across the industry.
This is the path to recognizing our profession for what it is, a skilled trade, and it will only come to fruition if professional drivers take an active role in its development.
At the moment there are too few experienced drivers engaged in the training process.
We can change that.
Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.