CALEDONIA, Ont. — A debate has been raging within the pages of Truck News in recent months, about the need for heightened standards within the entry-level commercial driver training industry.
Currently, the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) is charged with overseeing the training of entry-level commercial drivers. But many feel there are still too many schools pumping out unqualified entry-level drivers. This serves the industry poorly, as fleets waste time road-testing and rejecting unqualified job candidates, who in most cases find work with exploitive companies or leave the industry altogether in frustration.
For more on this issue, we caught up with Kim Richardson, the president and CEO of KRTS Transportation Specialists, who had some surprising views about his own industry.
TN: Kim, it seems everyone in the trucking industry acknowledges there’s a problem within the truck driver training industry. But not everyone agrees on the nature of the problem, or the possible solutions. Why is that?
Richardson: From my perspective, I think there’s definitely an issue with the standards in driver training for commercial operators. I think there’s no one playing field, there’s a number of playing fields. No disrespect to the government, but I think the MTCU is short-staffed. I think they have a dubious task, when you look at all the different vocations they look after.
Quite frankly, I think they have a much easier time with other vocations because of the nature of our business. I think there’s a definite problem.
TN: You are a proponent of getting the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) involved in overseeing the entry-level driver training industry. Why?
Richardson: I’m not sure it’s OTA, but I think they’re one of the options that the province and the industry has. When you look at other segments of industry, there is a regulatory body that works at arm’s length from the government.
I have a really difficult time saying this, but the fact is, our current training association (TTSAO) is dysfunctional. It’s unfortunate, because I’m a director of that association and I’m a member. There are many members that share the same opinion as me.
TN: As an outsider, it seems to me the entry-level truck driver training industry is very divisive. How come?
Richardson: I am a co-founder of TTSAO. We worked hard to bring the schools together in harmonization and working with industry. I’m not saying it’s the fault of the current leadership of the association. There may be a number of issues. We’ve had opportunities to align with the OTA in the past and didn’t.
I think (OTA) can play a much stronger role in entry-level training. They formed the Blue Ribbon Task Force, and I think they’re moving in the proper direction. I think the OTA needs to work with the schools up-front, and not say ‘Here are our expectations.’ I think there are standards already out there, so we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. But what good are standards without enforcement?
TN: When prospective students come into your facility, what level of preparedness do you see in them?
Richardson: They’re a consumer. When they talk to Dead Duck Truck Driver Training, they believe what they’re being told. Our potential clients ask the three no-nos: How much, how long and when’s my test? Those are the three worst questions and we get them all the time. As consumers, that’s what we do.
What we work really hard at doing at our facility is the educational part up front. It’s very time consuming. When they say ‘How much, how long and when’s my test?,’ we say ‘We can help you with the questions you should be asking.’ Let’s talk about the job, let’s talk about placement, let’s talk about industry and what steps you need to take to be successful.
I’ve always said I don’t think we’re in the training business, we’re in the placement business. A part of that placement business is the training side. The real important thing is to match your clients with the right choice of where they want to go to work. It’s critical.
TN: I’ve heard complaints that the poor quality of entry-level driver can be attributed to the allowance of automated transmissions in training and on road tests. Agree?
Richardson: I think we have much bigger fish to fry in our business than automated transmissions. At the end of the day, the market will decide which graduates and which clients are best for their business.
I see automation as a huge recruiting tool for our industry. Having said that, we have no automation in our schools – zero. I can tell you my competitors constantly sell that against us. They say ‘We’ll train you on a standard, but don’t worry about shifting, the day of the test you’ll have an automatic.’ That’s a competitive issue. Should every person be tested on a synchronized transmission? Absolutely not.
TN: Is there still an issue with non-registered training schools in Ontario?
Richardson: Absolutely, 100%. When I’m in Mississauga, I call the schools driving around with phone numbers on the sides of their trailers. I call them up and you can hear the engine running and they are selling the course and teaching someone at the same time. Come on.
Is that the MTCU’s fault? I don’t think they have the resources to properly regulate our industry. That’s the fact. I can count on my right hand the number of private vocational schools for commercial truck driving that do it right, and I might not need my thumb.
TN: So if another organization is brought in to oversee the training industry, what should they do differently?
Richardson: I truly believe a third party should be doing all our testing. They could come directly to our facilities and put the participant through the proper test, so that they are capable of having a really good chance.
TN: It’s unusual for a business owner to want more oversight of their industry.
Richardson: I think it’s important, as I get older, that I leave this industry in as good a condition as I can leave it in with the expertise and knowledge I have. All we’ve ever done is train drivers, that’s our expertise. I think we’re pretty good at it.
We spend a lot of time on the education part up front. It’s tough turning tuition dollars away, but if they’re not going to be a good fit out of the gate, why take their money?
Over the last couple of years, we haven’t been looking at the bottom of the barrel, we’ve been looking underneath it. Capacity has picked up, the churn and culling is ending. I think that, quite frankly, the unprofessional drivers are weeding themselves out of the industry, but we still have a huge problem with poorly trained and tested entry-level drivers.