On June 28, Ontario transport minister, Steven Del Duca, announced that all new drivers wishing to take the province’s tractor-trailer (Class A) road test will first be required to successfully complete a mandatory entry-level training (MELT) course through an approved training provider. This is a big deal. It’s a game-changer. The days of being able to walk in off the street and take the tractor-trailer test with no training whatsoever are over in Ontario.
The rule will take effect July 1, 2017 to provide a one-year phase-in designed to tie up some loose ends and allow the training schools (and everyone else) to get up to speed.
We believe MELT is an important safety measure. It will also help ensure carriers will have an adequate supply of consistently trained, quality new drivers in the future. For a long time, carriers have been concerned over the lack of consistency in the basic level of competency exhibited by recently licensed Class A drivers. There are good schools producing good new drivers, but at the other end of the spectrum there are the licence mills.
Just because a new driver holds a Class A licence is not a sufficient indicator that he or she has attained even the basic skills a carrier can then nurture over time into a professional driver. As part of the MELT process, the Class A test itself will be enhanced to bring it more in line with the new standard.
While it might seem counterintuitive to raise the bar on driver training and licensing at a time when carriers are grappling with a long-term, chronic driver shortage, MELT will in our view eventually help the industry to attract more, better qualified people to the occupation.
The CTA Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage, the Conference Board of Canada, and just about everyone else in the industry, has identified the classification of tractor-trailer driving as a low-skill occupation as a barrier to attracting people to the job. MELT is an essential step in changing that. For the first time in a few generations, more and more kids coming out of high school and university as well as the precariously employed, are looking to the trades for long-term, gainful employment. But, truck driving is not considered a trade. Too often it’s considered the job of last resort.
Before we can change that, the occupation must take on more of the attributes of other trades. That’s where MELT comes in. It’s hard to argue the occupation should be treated like other trades in the absence of any form of mandatory training. At the time of this writing, details of the new minimum training standard were yet to be released. However, having worked, along with others, assisting MTO with the development of the standard, we have a pretty good idea what it will look like. It will reflect the entry-level portion of the National Occupational Standard developed by Trucking HR Canada and the Canadian Trucking Alliance which itself was the subject of extensive consultation with industry.
The new standard will be more observable and measurable, providing more guidance to the trainers. It will require a minimum of 103.5 hours of training (115.5 hours if the MTO air brake course is included) and apply to private career colleges, community colleges and regulated authorities under the MTO Driver Certification Program, thus increasing consistency. It will force the licensing mills to either bring their training up to standard or exit the industry.
There are some issues to be worked out over the next year (ie., licence shopping, student funding and instructor qualifications). I am confident they will be resolved. In addition, work is underway with the Ontario College of Trades to bring the Ontario apprenticeship program in line with the new standard.
There is an old saying that victory has a thousand fathers. That is true in this case. But there are a lot of people who deserve credit. I’ll start with the OTA members and Board of Directors who, despite the risks and inevitable pushback that comes with being a true agent of change, provided the vision and direction and who continue to seek solutions leading to an even better industry for the future.
The minister and his staff provided the political leadership, support and commitment that is essential to getting things done. The folks from MTO’s road user safety branch worked tirelessly and are great partners. Credit to Trucking HR Canada and its national working group whose National Occupational Standard is the foundation for the new training standard. The carriers, insurance companies and safety groups who made up the OTA MELT/DCP working group brought the real world to the discussions. And, the OTA staff (you know who you are), distinguished themselves once again.
Previous efforts to establish new training standards often ended up with a product that did not have the endorsement or acceptance of the industry, especially from the carriers who are responsible for the safety of their fleets. It was imperative this time that the carriers and the many other stakeholders and partners – truck insurers, driver representatives, public and private training schools, enforcement agencies, shippers and safety advocates – were heard, if the standard is to have credibility. Given the broad level of input the new standard enjoys a level of support that was absent in the past.
Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada to take this step. We are hopeful others will follow. More Canadian jurisdictions are showing interest in what Ontario is doing. In the US, the FMCSA is developing its approach. The prospects of MELT expanding across the continent are good. It makes sense.
David Bradley is CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and the Ontario Trucking Association.