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Ontario’s entry-level driver training industry is a mess

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.


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.

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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.


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6 Comments » for Ontario’s entry-level driver training industry is a mess
  1. Mike Kroetsch says:

    Some very good point made come Kim. As a person that has been in the industry for over 40 years and the last 20 in training I do not like the direction we are headed specifically with quality of drivers.
    I spend many hours a week in the cab of the truck with drivers and have seen some weird things. That is getting worse as time goes on.
    This year along I have terminated more road tests than ever before because of unqualified drivers. I have had it that drivers are not able to pass the pre trip inspection of the tractor. Some unable to hook up to a trailer the first time.
    To tell the truth it scares the you know what out of me to think of them on the road.
    I think the drivers have to be more selective in the school they select.
    I also think that the schools have to prepare the drivers for more than obtaining an “A” license.
    Drive test sure has some work to do as well on what they are doing.
    Will this along solve the problem? I am doubtful of that but it would steer the industry in the right direction.

  2. Rick Thompson says:

    As noted above the hwy scares the you know what out of me as well,I have been driving class A for 35 years city primarily.
    Never until the last 3 or 4 years have I had to park some one elses truck.
    I have shown up and the customer has asked me to park the truck for the driver. Note Several times.
    My trailer pool at 1 customers location is getting hit continuusly and the driver proceeds with out reporting to the office, out of my pocket expense.
    I personally am terrified of what I am seeing out there today.
    also dealing with the MTO is difficult, Had a truck put out of service brakes out of adjustment sent a licensed mechanic to repair called and said the brakes are fine reported this to the inspecter NONE mechanic,reply thats not what I seen.Just truly fed up with all aspects of the business. Oh by the way my trucks are governed and many blow by me and look at me like I am the idiot. No I am doing what is expected by our Governing parties and the LAW.
    Regards.

  3. Jack Lochand Alpine Truck Driver Training says:

    I have grown up in the trucking industry and I totally agree with you – You have hit the nail on the head.
    Unless all these qualified schools come together under one umbrella nothing will be achieved.
    we all know the problem but unless we take a united stand the problem will not be solved many of the registered schools are the culprits they say one thing and do something else.
    Until we make a united stand the problem will exist.
    I wish you well and I stand by you.
    United we stand divided we fall.
    (you pay for what you get – and you get what you paid for)

  4. John says:

    Having been in the driver training industry the MTO seems to support bad schools. Price seems to be the major factor for government funding, this makes the good schools dumb down their course to compete. The air rake course is designed to create hours for trainers and not improve knowledge. New drivers are in employed because the MTO does not want a proper course just a cheap one . All this does is create annoyed students without jobs. Even the examiners have no truck training and do not need even an AZ licence.

  5. Jerry Wright says:

    “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.”
    I don`t understand what the debate could be. I have been driving tractor/trailers for 20 years and the days of trusting other truckdrivers in traffic situations are long gone. When I am near a truck from the GTA my senses are on red alert because there is a decent chance that driver doesn`t know what he is doing. Also the days of courtesy are gone. If it`s a GTA truck and we are approaching a merge point I know there will be no communication and I also know there is no “after you”. It`s all “me me me.” I will be retiring in a couple of years and when I step out of a big truck for the last time I will never look back. Whenever I am asked by a young person if truckdriving would be a good occupation, I tell him/her to do your homework because it is more dangerous now and the pay is not comensurate with the job. Putting warm bodies behind the wheel in an effort to alleviate the driver shortage is only making THAT problem worse as well in my opinion.

  6. Shaun Garvey says:

    This is not simply an Ontario issue. The current situation regarding higher class entry level CV driver training and testing in Ontario, while certainly a significant challenge for the transportation sector in Ontario, has far-reaching effects on the rest of the country. Rewind to Alberta at the turn of the millenium. Their CV driver training industry was in disarray and many other provinces were feeling the pinch. There was little regulation or oversight. The fox was in the henhouse. Many training schools were putting out an inferior, ill-equipped product at a fraction of the cost of what, higher quality schools were, allowed to not only train but test & certify. During a driver shortage, this was a recipe for disaster. Companies wanted drivers, regardless of experience. New drivers wanted jobs. Prospective drivers from across the country flocked to Alberta to circumvent higher regulated testing standards, claiming to live in Alberta, providing whatever scant evidence they could manufacture to slide under the radar. Once a new shiny CV license was secured, essentially paid for, these new accidents-waiting-to-happen slipped back to their actual home provinces and, due to the nature of driver license reciprocity across Canada, simply traded in their AB license for one from BC, ON, etc. Companies across Canada cried fowl, but some just sucked it up and took on these problem children believing they had little alternative since the freight needed to move.

    Now fast forward to 2013 in Ontario. Sound familiar? The only way to ensure that new quality CV drivers are prepared to enter the workforce without a ton of orientation and additional training is to (1) ensure there is adequate regulated, monitored standards that training institutions are required to meet, with mandatory cirriculums and regular oversight, and (2) independent testing of new drivers by qualified examiners (not performed by the training facilities that have a vested interest in churning out drivers without much concern for the end product).

    Many of us that have been in the industry for a few decades will rue the days when regulation was strangling our industry. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung way too far the other way now, like political correctness. It’s time to bring back sensible, informed regulation that is meant to support immediate and long term goals of our sector, while ensuring uniformity and clarity.

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