Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) has been a hot topic ever since Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca announced that his province was planning to introduce minimum training standards for commercial vehicle operators.
It was hardly the first call of its kind. In the US, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has established the Entry-Level Driver Training Advisory Committee to conduct a negotiated rulemaking on the same issue.
The plan there is to develop a process based on the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. In the midst of it all, Trucking HR Canada has been consulting with industry representatives such as the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada to update our country’s National Occupational Standards, which promise to define the job of a truck driver – and effectively chart learning outcomes – better than ever before.
But it was Del Duca’s announcement which led to a firestorm of opinions expressed everywhere from columns to articles and press releases.
Most of the comments have been positive. With the exception of a few dissenting voices the vast majority of our industry has come out in favour of MELT. There is a willingness to improve the existing situation and set a path for the future.
Of course, there is still much to be done. For example, we still need to decide who will oversee the standard. Without a proper governing body the regulations will be meaningless.
But with the extensive collaboration now underway, I’m confident that such barriers can be overcome.
The process even promises to help us resolve the challenges around an intensifying driver shortage.
On the surface, raising the standards would seem to create a bigger barrier to young people who are thinking about exploring a career behind the wheel. But we need to remember that the challenge has never been a shortage of people with a commercial driver’s licence.
The issue is a shortage of candidates who are qualified to work as a commercial vehicle driver. The licence itself will never be enough.
A mandatory level of training will help to ensure that we establish the skills needed to acquire an entry-level standard prior to entering the industry as a CMV operator.
The other side of the equation is that the industry has an image problem.
Despite advances in job requirements and technology, trucking is still seen by some people to be a career of last resort. (Can’t find anything else? Then take a job behind the wheel).
We are not on the radar of young people. Parents and guidance councillors may not even look at opportunities in what they consider to be a low-skilled career.
To compound matters, even the federal government does not consider operating a commercial motor vehicle as a skilled occupation. This makes it tougher to attract training funds and find other support.
Recognizing trucking as a skilled trade will help to bridge these gaps.
The Conference Board of Canada predicts we will be short 30,000 for-hire drivers by 2020.
The needs of private fleets will be on top of that. And we will all face evermore competition from other industries that are looking for skilled workers of their own.
We need to begin working on solutions today if we have any hope of answering the challenges of tomorrow. We need to get our industry back in the conversation at the dinner table of the houses in our country, and
at the offices of our guidance counsellors at our schools.
To do this, we must improve our image, and make ourselves a trade ofchoice.
We must make sure everyone is aware that we are a reputable industry, that we have well-paying jobs, and career paths available beyond the driver’s seat for those that want to advance into other areas.
In order to be able to begin this conversation, in my view, we must be able to access the same advantages as other skilled trades.
With Minster Del Duca and the FMCSA asking for MELT standards, and the NOS standard being updated, which identifies the many different skills that are required to be a CMV operator, it is hard for anyone to argue that this is not a skilled trade.
A real opportunity is being presented to the industry, and it is one we must ensure we do not let slip by. Will MELT and the revised NOS standard solve all our driver shortage problems? No.
Will being declared a skilled trade fix everything? No.
As an industry we still must be proactive and advertise our field, but it sure would help change the conversation.
It is also possible, by raising the bar and standards required to become an entry level CMV driver, that we will in fact make the job more attractive.
These realities should lead anyone to warm up to the idea of MELT.
Mike Millian is president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, the only national association that represents the views and interests of the private fleet industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.