TREND SETTERS: Tim Atkinson (left) and Mike Yeo (center), the industry's first apprentices are pictured with Kim Richardson.
GUELPH, Ont. – After more than two and a half years of meetings with industry stakeholders, the Voluntary Apprenticeship Program for Professional Drivers in Ontario is now a reality.
“(Minister of Education and Training, Chris) Bentley and his team should be commended for their efforts. This is a great day for the trucking industry,” said MacKinnon Transportation ‘s Ray Haight, who was also nominated as the industry committee chairman. “The professional driver will finally receive the recognition they deserve. I tip my hat to every stakeholder who committed to the project.”
Bentley announced the program at the Ontario Trucking Association’s convention last fall, but the announcement was preceded by months of meetings at MacKinnon Transport in Guelph, Ont.
The program’s progress had been stalled while it awaited Ministry approval to push back the Grade 12 requirement to a Grade 10 requirement, which would allow participants to enrol in the program without a diploma.
Kim Richardson, president of KRTS and a key stakeholder throughout the process, said the wait has been well worth it.
“We needed to make sure there was a provision for people who want to get into the apprenticeship and do not have a Grade 12 diploma. We also needed to ensure this provision would not encourage our youth to leave school prematurely,” he said.
The process for the apprenticeship will take an apprentice up to a year to receive their certificate, using a combination of in-class and on-the-job training. Participants will learn a series of skill sets including trip planning; vehicle maintenance; managing information and documentation; performing trailer operations; defensive driving skills in both regular and extreme driving conditions; and cargo handling and load securement. The program also offers drivers training on how to protect and manage themselves, as well as how to improve communication. There is also a provision for existing drivers to obtain a similar certificate called a Certificate of Competency.
Recruitment and retention has been a constant focus in recent years, as the number of qualified drivers has continued to dwindle in the face of an industry-wide image problem.
Haight says one of the main reasons why new drivers have been jumping in and out of the industry has been because of sub-standard training schools and trucking companies without formal training programs.
“They’re throwing keys to the trucker and three weeks later after they’ve scared the hell out of themselves 10 times, they walk away from the industry,” he told Truck News.
“There is, and continues to be a problem with licensing mills in the province of Ontario,” says KRTS’ Richardson.
“It is a safety issue. Bad schools produce bad students and bad students, in our industry, produce accidents.”
Haight says the new apprenticeship program provides a platform for good carriers to help insure that all the competencies a driver needs are there and all other bases are covered over the course of the year-long training.
“(The program) is ongoing training to keep people in the industry (and) I think to some degree it legitimizes the industry,” he says.
The reaction from the public was almost immediate, Haight says. When a press release announcing the start of the apprenticeship was distributed June 15, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities had about 200 calls the following day inquiring about the program. Most of the calls came from people who are currently outside of the industry, according to Haight. MacKinnon also received about 50 calls that same morning.
“I think (the apprenticeship) will push a lot of people over the edge when they’re asking, ‘Should I or should I not go down this road?'”
Apart from unanimous support from the OTA, Haight says the program’s proponents have also received great feedback from the trucking companies they’ve asked to be involved.
“One of the great things about this program is that it’s so adaptable – a large carrier can do it or a very small carrier can do it,” Haight says.
Richardson says support from carriers will most likely make or break the program.
“At the end of the day, you know who’s going to decide the success or failure of this program? It’s not going to be training schools. It’s not going to be the government. It’s going to be the carriers that decide the success or failure of this program,” he says.
Haight also said the majority of insurers in Ontario have been present during the process, and is hoping that eventually the performance of graduates can be tracked in order to positively affect insurance rates, which would in turn give trucking companies incentive to use the program.
The apprenticeship program will soon burst into the industry in full force with a campaign called “Step-Up to Apprenticeship.”
The program, which will be launched at the Fergus Truck Show (July 21-23), will include a series of posters, handouts and a Web site outlining what the apprenticeship program entails, as well as contact information for local apprenticeship offices. For more information call KRTS at 905-765-3445 or MacKinnon Transport at 800-265-9394.