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Everyone Likes Good News Stories (February 01, 2010)

A couple of metaphorical Grinches turned into Santas just before the holiday season and one of them happened at a propitious time for Ontario's private career colleges that train new commercial driver...


A couple of metaphorical Grinches turned into Santas just before the holiday season and one of them happened at a propitious time for Ontario’s private career colleges that train new commercial drivers for the trucking industry.

First, the union representing workers at DriveTest centres in the province reached an agreement with the employer, Serco DES Inc., which the membership subsequently approved. That approval ended a lengthy strike that seriously impacted driver training schools and their students. Students who had completed training, some in order to begin a career as a driver after losing their previous job in the recession, couldn’t move forward on that new career for want of a test to acquire the licence they needed. Schools saw a decline in enrollment because, in part, there was a growing backlog of those seeking tests and no end in sight to the labour dispute.

The second concern was with a funding formula for truck driver training that was proposed by the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (MTCU), which if left intact could have threatened the survival of some private career colleges.

The Second Career program was launched by MTCU in June 2008 to provide laid-off workers with training and financial support to help them find jobs in other, high-demand occupations in Ontario. The initial plan called for a three-year program but after only 16 months it had exceeded its three-year goal of helping 20,000 laid-off workers. The program was then shut down to be re-assessed.

The funding formula that was part of the revised version of the program hit the truck driver training institutes hard. It proposed two levels of funding for institutes that train truck drivers: for training at a community college the funding level was $40/hr; whereas if training took place at a private career college the funding was limited to $14/hour.

The $14 per hour was problematic when you consider the cost of operating a tractor-trailer, much less when that cost must include an instructor. Further, even though students could access up to $28,000 through the program, private career colleges could only charge a maximum of $10,000 for tuition, while the community colleges didn’t seem to have that restriction imposed.

Left unchecked, that formula would certainly have driven students away from private career colleges to the community colleges.

A consortium of truck driver training schools led by Gus Rahim and Brian Adams, both members of the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario demonstrated what can happen when a group of like-minded people take a reasoned approach to solving a problem. The consortium took its concerns to the Ministry and got results.

Some good news for the consortium came on Dec. 21 in an e-mail that announced changes to the proposed guidelines. The allowable hourly rates for both types of institutes were now to be $40.That was a good step, but the new formula left at least one more question.

What was still unclear at the time of writing is whether the $10,000 cap on the tuition portion if the course applies to both private career colleges and community colleges. If the tuition caps are different, the level playing field has only been partially restored.

Congratulations to all those who participated in the consortium and indeed, to those at MTCU who took steps to at least partially correct an inequitable situation quickly. The consortium leaders intend to continue discussions with the Ministry to clarify the question of the tuition cap and we will watch for developments on that front.

The second piece of good news came on a completely unrelated front: a PMTC member company, Chapman’s Ice Cream located in the small Ontario town of Markdale, burned to the ground last fall as the result of a welder’s spark during renovations. Chapman’s is a major employer in the area and the potential effect of such a fire could have been disastrous.

Where is the good news in that story? As reported in several publications, Chapman’s owners, Penny and David Chapman immediately committed to rebuilding the business and assured their 350 employees that they would not miss a paycheque.

They acquired space in the area and Chapman’s was up and running with a temporary plant and offices within a few weeks. Other companies even helped out by producing Chapman’s ice cream to trademarked recipes, something that could only happen in a small town like Markdale.

It’s a great story of small town businesses coming together to put people before profits.

Chapman’s expects to be up and running in a brand new plant, twice the size of the old one, in time for the onslaught of summer’s ice cream demands.

The elixir that turned the Grinch into Santa and a devasting situation into a good news story, both in time for Christmas, is one that I would like to bottle.

-The PMTC is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. Your comments or questions can be addressed to trucks@pmtc.ca.


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