Recently, a person dropped into the office at Altanic Transportation, looking for a job. He had no appointment, but I chose to interview and road test him. A brief conversation revealed he was from Europe, and had driven truck for a number of years. When he came to Canada, he completed a driver training course, and was able to pass a Ministry road test on his first attempt.
So far, so good. We went out to a truck to begin the road test. My instructions for any candidate are, “Pretend you are coming in to work here. Show me what you would do at the start of your day.” This individual never popped the hood to check fluids. He was completely disorganized, going randomly around the truck and reciting the script he learned at the driving school to pass the Ministry exam.
We proceeded through this “pre-trip inspection,” started the truck, and went to hook up the trailer. He was able to pin the tractor up correctly, and then asked me if he should wind the landing gear up. We continued the “inspection” down the driver’s side of the trailer, again inspecting lights that were not turned on, until we came to the rear axles. At this point he said, “There are no air leaks.” I asked him why there were no air leaks, and when he appeared not to understand, I told him, “There are no air leaks because you have not put air to the trailer.” He ran up to the cab and proceeded to fan the footbrake. I pointed out he did not have the red button pushed in, so no air was going to the trailer. I asked him what happens when you push in the red button, and he said, “you can go.”
“Why can you go?” I asked. He could not tell me. I terminated the road test at this point.
I share all this not to show the deficiency of the individual, but to point out major flaws in our training system. This poor man was sold a bill of goods. He was led to believe that, if he paid his instructor many thousands of dollars, he would get a licence that would get him a job. There was no assessment of his aptitude for the job in the first place. There was no time given to making sure he understood what he was doing. He was taught to memorize a pre-trip inspection script that he could recite to an examiner, without knowing what the components in the script are, or what they look like if they are defective. Yet on the basis of his memory, he was given an A licence.
Responsibility for new driver performance and conduct on the road has been downloaded onto the transport companies. If I had given him the keys to a truck and sent him on a trip, I would be guilty of negligent hiring, even though our government has given him their blessing.
Ontario is now introducing the MELT (mandatory entry-level training) program. MELT will not change a thing. Neither will the new road test guidelines that are being given to the testing centers. The Ministry has standardized the maneuvers a driver must successfully complete: the failing here is that they will not be tested on a maneuver if there is no facility available for the test center to perform the maneuver. Further, there is still no under-the-hood component to the testing, so the pre-trip is a memory test, not a knowledge test.
One of the things that would drastically change the quality of candidates is a screening process. Before enrolling a student, schools should be required to give aptitude tests, so they would be training people who actually have a chance of being successful in the business. There should also be a fail rate. Schools should have the responsibility to tell individuals if they are not suited for this line of work, rather than feed the fantasy with promises of extra help. The truth is, not everyone can be a truck driver.
MELT should include initial training, a Ministry road test that gets you a permit to drive under supervision, leading to several thousand hours of supervised behind-the-wheel experience. The companies doing the apprenticeship should receive subsidies, as happens with trades that currently have apprenticeships.
Roger Douthwaite is director of safety for Altanic Transportation. He has more than 30 years of driving experience and has been safety director for Altanic since 2015.