The calls for a better standard of driver training are nothing new.
In 1990, Human Resources Development Canada identified a “pressing need” to upgrade the skills of existing drivers. News organizations have reported on schools which barely prepare students to pass a Ministry of Transportation exam. And these challenges continue to be echoed by trainers, safety departments, carriers and insurers.
Most recently, the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage called for a minimum standard of entry-level, apprenticeship or apprenticeship-like training. Now Ontario’s Minister of Transportation has called for the same thing, bringing us a step closer to improving early skills, and helping to eliminate the substandard training programs which effectively allow someone to buy a licence rather than prepare for the job.
We are even closer to defining exactly what the early training needs to address. Trucking HR Canada has unveiled proposed National Occupational Standards which clearly outline exactly what a driver needs to know and do early in a career. Every fleet and shipper will introduce some unique demands – whether they involve workplace practices, specialized equipment, or processes for specific freight – but these standards identify the core abilities that someone needs to demonstrate when hauling general freight in tractor-trailers with Gross Vehicle Weights up to 45,000 kgs. Drivers certainly need to enhance their skill sets before advancing to heavier weights.
The details also take an important step beyond the skills required to move up and down the highway. After all, drivers are expected to understand such things as cargo securement, backing manoeuvres, regulations and paperwork, among many other roles.
One of the best ways to identify the programs which help trainees develop their required skills is to consider the number of training hours. Effectively, the more hours devoted to learning, the better. In Ontario, for example, the Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities has established a 200-hour training curriculum for the apprenticeship program for tractor-trailer commercial drivers. In Quebec, the training offered through the Centre de Formation en Transportation Routier lasts 615 hours. Pushing further east, the 12-week Atlantic Standard for Tractor-Trailer Training was established in Nova Scotia in 1997, and is now expanding into New Brunswick.
Rather than simply repeating the same road test used by licence examiners, these training programs devote time in the classroom to explore topics such as Hours of Service regulations, logbooks, air brake designs, cargo securement, defensive driving, vehicle inspections and more. The trainers themselves also need to demonstrate specific levels of experience before teaching others.
But we need to remember that effective training does not end in a school. Entry-level drivers will require support and training from mentors at a fleet level, where they will learn workplace-specific processes and put new skills to work. After all, the context of some lessons only emerges once drivers are on the job.
Drivers who are licensed in the spring may need a guiding hand when they first begin to experience icy or snowy conditions.
Fleets, meanwhile, can rely on the mentors to help evaluate the newest hires, documenting any weaknesses and strengths so that any shortcomings can be addressed.
As strange as it sounds, a tougher barrier of entry will also help to solve the trucking industry’s intensifying shortage of qualified drivers. An educated workforce will always be more stable and productive, making the employees more desirable to fleets and insurers alike.
Drivers who are properly prepared for the job will ease the demands on recruiters, too. I know I have met many people who left the trucking industry after a year on the job because they had failed to understand the long days and tough demands of this work.
Today’s carriers can no longer afford to hand an untested driver a fuel card, bill of lading and keys to a truck. As a well-worn saying in our industry will suggest, “you hire your problems.” This is as true today as it ever was, particularly given the expanding demands of customers, insurers and safety ratings programs.
It is a matter of public safety. Nobody would imagine allowing a doctor, electrician or mechanic to perform their jobs without being properly qualified. A driver who shares a workplace with the general public should meet minimum training standards of his own.
One thing for sure is that the learning process will continue. I have been in the trucking industry for almost 40 years and continue to learn something new every day. Anyone who thinks they know everything might want to consider turning in their keys.
This month’s expert is Bill Cowan, senior risk services trainer. Bill has served the trucking industry for over 35 years as a driver, safety manager, driver trainer and in loss control and risk management. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a long standing history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at www.nbins.com.