GUELPH, Ont. – It’s one of the industry’s main sore points that driving a truck isn’t recognized as a skilled trade and truck driver training does not qualify as an apprenticeship course.
But that may change, thanks to the efforts of several industry insiders.
Government, education and trucking industry officials, who met for the second time June 1, will soon put forward a case to the Apprenticeship Board of Ontario arguing that truck driving should be added to the 144 apprenticeship trades in Ontario.
The group’s discussions and efforts may help combat the depletion of entry level skilled workers entering the trucking industry and boost the retention of skilled drivers already on the road.
“There is a lot more that we can be doing to help retention in our companies,” said Bill MacKinnon, chairman of MacKinnon Transport. “And implementing apprenticeships is the beginning. I’m not sure why we weren’t an apprenticeable trade years ago.”
Kim Richardson, president of KRTS Transportation Specialists, moderated two round table discussions on the issue. Each was attended by 20 industry professionals. The first meeting was held April 7 at the Grand Erie Training and Adjustment Board in Brantford, Ont., and MacKinnon Transport of Guelph, Ont. hosted the June 1 session.
“Trucking is the largest employer in Canada but the average age of a trucker is 57-years-old,” said Richardson, wondering where the next generation of drivers will come from.
Since truck driving is one of the few areas where workers share their work area with the general public, making truck driving an apprenticed trade may help raise standards and establish a more positive image of the industry and the profession, said Richardson.
The group’s solution includes an unrestricted apprenticeship program where carriers can choose to participate.
“The Apprenticeship Board had no idea that the trucking industry would be interested in this,” said Clark Wilson, an industrial electronics professor with Fanshawe College and the creator of apprenticesearch.com.
If an 18-year-old were in an apprenticeship situation, there would be a number of benefits, said Wilson. The student wouldn’t have the $25,000 debt he would have following a regular three-year post-secondary education program; he would be employed and paying taxes and still acquiring an education.
“A person could probably finish an apprenticeship in a little over six months,” said Richardson.
The carrier representatives present agreed that the first six months for a driver starting with a new company are critical, and an apprenticeship program could make that transition easier.
Establishing standards and training requirements would be critical, however, to creating a successful apprenticeship program.
This is why the Apprenticeship Board of Ontario will be working with a committee of professionals to generate the minimum requirements.
MacKinnon Transport, which will be part of that committee, has a modified version of an apprenticeship program already in place.
“New drivers, regardless of whether or not they have experience driving, are introduced to a mentor from our group of experienced drivers, and they remain a team for a year. The mentor produces weekly reports on the progress of the new driver. It has been really well received and most drivers who come in have told us that they have never seen such a program,” said Brian Botham, manager of safety and compliance for MacKinnon Transport.
Operationally speaking, the mentor program even works well for logbooks and paperwork because it gives the driver someone who isn’t their dispatcher or boss to talk to about issues they encounter, said Ray Haight, president and COO of MacKinnon Transport.
“You would be surprised at how far this type of thing goes with retention,” said Haight. “We invest in the driver and they, in turn, invest in us.”
TST Truckload Express has also implemented a type of apprenticeship, which it says has gone a long way in helping its driver retention issues.
“We are working with KRTS and Arrow Truck Sales in order to offer the Power to Driver Program, where we train drivers to begin as owner/operators,” said Stan Morris of TST Truckload Express. “We want to bring in a driver and get him to think about this as running a business.”
Over the next five years, TST projects it will require 769 owner/operators and 500 company drivers, said Tom Phillips of TST Truckload Express.
Young people who want to become truck drivers usually say it’s because they want the freedom and they want to see the country, said Pete Million, driver recruiting manager for Schneider National.
And even though they value these characteristics of the job, what they don’t realize is once they have those things they don’t know how to handle it, he said.
“It’s understandable. How could we expect them to know how it really is out on the road? I can’t teach that in training and the driver training school can’t teach that, but the apprenticeship program can.”
With most Canadian carriers, the typical requirement is that a driving recruit be 25-years-old and have two years driving experience.
But the trucking industry is losing the interest of high school graduates that don’t want to go on to post-secondary education yet must wait five or more years before they can get behind the wheel of a truck, said Morris.
The industry could rectify this disconnect by using drivers as young as 18 on interprovincial runs, said Million. This way, when they hit 21 and can legally drive across the border into the U.S (the U.S. driving age is 21) they will already have the benefit of a few years of driving experience under their belts.
But that’s not how things are currently working. To reward their experienced drivers, carriers often give them the interprovincial routes to address home time demands.
Targeting young people at school is the way to go, according to Suzanne Cass, a career education itinerant teacher with the Grand Erie District School Board.
“We need to do a better job at targeting early leavers and those headed for work destinations,” said Cass. “We are starting to develop career path programs appropriate for Grades five and six, and so the industry essentially has to think of (targeting students) from that young an age.”
Thirty per cent of students leaving secondary school are early leavers, 25 per cent are headed for a work pathway, 19 per cent are headed for college and 26 per cent attend university.
Of the latter two groups, only 50 per cent actually graduate, she added.
“These stats show that now is the right time for education and industry to partner in order to create a bridge for students rather than letting them do it on their own,” said Cass.
Industry partnerships also allow schools to offer more programs and statistics show that students are more interested in apprenticeships today than they were six years ago, Cass added.
“We go into high schools and do mock interviews and look at resumes for students, and we see quite a bit of interest in the industry so we need to grab their attention before we lose them,” said Botham.
“Professional drivers and police officers are the two professions that get the most attendance at high school career talks,” said Million, who works a great deal with high schools and career centres.
The other piece of the puzzle is insurance, said Lisa Arseneau of the Precept Insurance Group.
“Over the last few years, the insurers have been embracing younger drivers, and there have been a lot of changes in the trucking insurance industry because they know they have to stay in business,” said Arseneau, who works with many owner/operators and new drivers.
Apprenticeships mean that there will also be a standard set for insuring young drivers and that everyone will get coverage, added Arseneau.