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Mandatory training for entry-level truck drivers:The time has come

I have again been reading in the pages of this and other trade publications about the problems associated with sub-standard training entry level truck drivers are receiving from sub-standard “training” schools (i.e., puppy mills)....

I have again been reading in the pages of this and other trade publications about the problems associated with sub-standard training entry level truck drivers are receiving from sub-standard “training” schools (i.e., puppy mills). The people who get hoodwinked into this process end up either not being able to get a driving job (and are likely to be turned off the industry forever) or if they do, it’s likely to be with a sub-standard carrier where they will continue to fall prey and contribute to the industry’s lowest common denominator.

This is not a new problem for our industry; the same complaints have been around for years. It’s a serious matter and with a chronic and growing driver shortage – the demographics of the driver population guarantee that – it’s likely to get worse, not better, as the industry scrambles to find warm bodies to fill the seats. (This is not a problem created by the ability to use “automatics” for the driving test as some have suggested).

Complaining about the problem is not solving anything. Something needs to be done.

There’s no shortage of ideas. You’ve heard them. Regulate the puppy mills out of business. Give the candidates coming out of the “regulated” training schools (or the schools themselves) preference when it comes to booking licence tests. While these suggestions might be helpful, they won’t – in my view – solve the problem.

So long as: anyone can challenge the commercial driver’s licence test without having undergone any training whatsoever; and so long as the commercial driver’s licence test itself falls short of establishing any sort of meaningful vocational benchmark, the industry will continue to be plagued by people seeking the quickest and cheapest way in. And, there will be those willing to assist them in doing so by offering just enough “training” to get the licence (and not all of those are what we would consider to be puppy mills. Perhaps at one time there were enough kids coming off the farms who were familiar with heavy machinery and were capable of stepping into the job without any formal training, but those days are long gone.

You can regulate the training schools all you want, but so long as they can offer various price-driven programs, you will still end up with varying degrees and levels of training.

What’s really needed is a requirement for some level of mandatory entry-level training BEFORE someone can take the commercial driver’s license test. This was perhaps the most provocative action item identified by the CTA Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage in Canada. It was also cited by the Conference Board of Canada in its report on the driver shortage and economic implications.

Mandatory entry-level training is seen as way to enhance the professionalism of the driving job and ultimately a necessary step for it to be deemed a skilled occupation. This in turn, it is felt, would improve the attractiveness of the occupation to younger people who are more than ever considering the trades or a position with some sort of designation. It is also a likely pre-requisite for a re-classification of truck driving from a non-skilled occupation for immigration purposes.

Finally, the introduction of mandatory entry-level training would ultimately drive changes to upgrade and enhance the commercial driver’s licence test befitting the vocation.

What that mandatory training will look like is something the industry – ie., the carriers – should determine. They are, after all, the customers of the driving schools and the people who will ultimately be doing the hiring and then providing the additional training and guidance needed to turn the new drivers into professionals.

Obviously, the carriers will need to work with others – the professional training schools, insurers, etc. – who have important expertise to offer as well as a stake in the final outcome. We have learned from experience (ie., Earning Your Wheels) that there is little point in developing a program that no one can afford to offer or to take. But the starting point – at least for my money – has to be for the carriers to define what it is they want and then work with the others from there. A lot of work has been done in this area already, so perhaps that part might not be as difficult as we might think.

The real challenges will likely – as always – be to achieve consensus within the industry and then to convince the provincial governments (who have jurisdiction in this area) to move in this direction. We need to find a way to get everyone pulling in the same direction on roughly the same timetable. And, of course there is the issue of money. The costs will need to be shared by the major stakeholders – the carriers, the trainees and government. But by improving the quality of the people coming into the industry, by making our economy more productive and our roads safer, the return on investment should be significant.

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5 Comments » for Mandatory training for entry-level truck drivers:The time has come
  1. Martin C says:


    During the years of 2001 up to 2003 I was a driver trainer at a very reputable Truck Training School. The school implemented almost 180 hours in class, 40 hours behind the wheel, 40 hours learning the components of the vehicle (Trip Inspection) and 40 hours of backing up a truck and trailer. The latter was invaluable to all concerned. However, after a couple of years the school was feeling the monetary hardship, or greed. They cut the 40 hours of backing and included it into the 50 hours of driving. Now, most of the students who were leaving the school had below standards of backing ability.
    I am amazed how an Electrician has to go through as a apprentice. A crane operator operating a 100 ton crane has to complete 6000 hours of training and 15 weeks of schooling, I could go on…Yet a truck driver, who can travel down a road at 100 km’s an hour can squeeze by on 24 hours of truck training, through a puppy mill, and be handed the keys to a rig and heading down the road within a couple of hours. Ontario has no regulations, acts or legislation on training a driver, accept taking the Drive Wise (MTO) test, yet they can do more damage and destruction than an Electrician or a Crane Operator due to overseeing regulators.
    I feel that a committee to assist the government should be started immediately in regards to your comments. All stakeholders, from Truck Training Schools to Insurance companies should be involved in this training process.
    I for one would be more than willing to jump into this Committee. With 35 years as an A-Z driver, driver trainer and Safety & Compliance, I want to see a change and turn this profession into something that a driver can be proud to state to their friends and family that they want to be or they are.
    Good article David

  2. Jerry says:

    I have been driving professionally for close to 20. yrs. The quality of drivers coming out of the GTA is frightening. Too many of these drivers have been taught nothing of courtesy and safety. They come from cultures that are overpopulated, i.e. India and the GTA, where a person has to fight for elbow room. This is extended to almost everything leading up to and including driving a tractor-trailer to it`s destination. The time honoured North American system of courteous and safe driving has been undermined by overegulation and the “me first” attitude of these drivers. JIT delivery has contributed to events such as autoparts being scattered up and down the 401.

    The only people who consider us professionals are ourselves. When I insist to my brother-in law, an electrician that tractor-trailer training should be viewed as a trade he scoffs. In today`s environment NOBODY should get behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer without the sort of training that simply no longer exists. I`m talking about apprenticeship, skid pads and MUCH more. This would have a profound effect on our economy so i am not holding my breath. Exept when a GTA driver cuts me off.

  3. Andy Roberts says:

    Mr. Bradley makes some excellent points in his article.

    There was a time that I would readily defend any truck driver on the road as being a Professional but sadly this is no more. There are too many employers who are only concerned with filling a seat and have no respect for the skills and knowledge required to perform safely / efficiently as a Professional driver. As long as employers are willing to hire the poorly trained drivers the short training courses will exist. Carriers need to support their local training providers by including the schools in their recruitment ads. As an employer, if you hire graduates of a recognized training program and are proud of it “tell the world” Support the schools so they can keep their classes full and provide you with a steady flow of driver candidates. It appears that foreign driver recruitment is here to stay as we just don’t seem to have enough people in Canada to fill all the openings in our industry. We must ensure that those who are interested in a professional driving career receive the proper training to be successful.

    I will dispute with Mr. Bradley (as I have in the past) the benefits of the Earning Your Wheels course as we taught the program for ten years (until it became unavailable) with great success and carrier support. I’m not sure how you can expect to train a new driver properly in all the skills they require and make it affordable? How do we define affordable? I can put 10 students in a classroom with 1 instructor and teach many important things to them but when it comes to driving, I can only put 1 student in the drivers seat at a time with one instructor. The capital cost of equipment, licensing, insurance, tires, fuel etc make for expensive training. If you’re training properly with modern equipment (so the students know what DEF and DPF are) and fully loaded trailers then your expenses are equivalent or more than a trucking company.

    If carriers are prepared to invest money in foreign workers then why not partner with a school that provides training acceptable to you and recruit new drivers and provide loans for partial tuition? What if they don’t work out? says the carrier, well what if they do and now they aren’t trained properly? If my properly trained driver, drivers your truck for a year and gets 5.5 mpg while your other driver only gets 5 mpg, then my driver just saved you over 10,000 liters of fuel! So at $1.25 / liter you just saved $12,5000 in a year. Properly trained drivers make you money, so make the investment in tuition and provide proper mentorship / support when the new driver starts work with you.

    You can’t tell me drivers need proper training Mr. Bradley but that it has to be affordable? Truck driver training is expensive and requires investment by all parties involved for all the right reasons including the safety of my family on the highways.

    I invite any member of Parliament to come out to BC and drive my loaded truck in the mountains and tell me that professional drivers don’t have any skills. If you want Professional behavior then treat your drivers with the respect a professional deserves, pay them accordingly and designate “truck driver” as a skilled trade called “Professional Driver Tractor Trailer”.

    For those of you out there driving today, stay safe and remember your actions behind the wheel reflect on all of us.

    Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

  4. Lane Kranenburg says:

    Transport Canada and Provincial Transport Agencies spend millions on equipment issues, and fail to realize that the problem is not the equipment, but the operator. At the scales, equipment is checked and rechecked, but little or no effort is placed on the driver.
    Statistics indicate that 98% of incidents involve driver issues! not equipment failure and yet we continue to spend our time and money on equipment and not on the training, or conditions of the most important component, the man behind the wheel. This occupation must be reclassified as “skilled” and training must be regulated much closer.
    Thank you David Bradley for looking seriously at the industry’s most pressing problem!

  5. John Mack says:

    I agree-this is really good to know! I hadn’t heard much about the issues with truck driver jobs in Ontario and other areas but I was planning to get my CDL soon and I didn’t think it should be that easy for someone to start driving commercial. I’ve driven some pretty big rigs but the gear changing and other details should be taken into account for training new drivers.

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