MONTREAL, Que. – The Mack spins in the mud and slides toward a ditch. After a word with his partner, the young driver jumps from his perch, cranks down the landing gear and releases the kingpin. He swings back into the cab and pulls away from the kingpin.
Gilles D’Amour and Andre Millier turn away from the window andback to our discussion about driver training in the province of Quebec.
“There are some people who want to get a job as fast as possible. Others want to feel more comfortable with the tractors before they go to work for a company … they take more practice and theory,” explains Millier.
D’Amour has owned this driving school, the Centre de Formation de Routiers Express, for 15 years. But last July he received government accreditation to offer a professional studies diploma.
“We are allowed to give the same (615-) hour course as in St-Gerome,” says Millier, D’Amour’s business partner of six months, referring to the government-run school in that municipality.
The Centre also offers seven other courses, from an 88-hour refresher course to a program that takes 440 hours.
It took D’Amour three years to be accredited to deliver the province’s diploma program. “It is very hard to get accreditation like this,” says Millier. The Centre is one of only four such Quebec driving schools – two are government run and two are in the private sector.
It’s the government financing that helps make it worthwhile. The government will lend students moneyguaranteeing loans and sometimes paying the whole cost of training for the diploma. “The course is $9,750 and some students get $14,000 – $15,000 in loans,” says D’Amour. The interest rates are low and loan repayment begins after the new driver starts working.
The school has graduated 50 “DEP” drivers so far, but could train 400-600 a year.
The partners rail about the quality of drivers among those who don’t take proper training. D’Amour thinks that many drivers are so poorly trained that they don’t even know how to drive down a hill: “One day your boss is going to send you to Sept-Isles. You are going to have big problems.”
It also annoys him that, whenever there are road checks or accidents, the focus is on mechanical problems but never driver training. (A 1998 study found out that 82 per cent of Quebec drivers have no formal driver training.)
The Ministry of Education also approves instructors. These teachers need 10 years of experience and no criminal record or permit suspensions. Instructors also have to take 30 credits of courses at the University du Quebec a Montreal.
Students take six to seven weeks of classroom work, including learning how to do a circle check. And only then do they get behind the wheel of a bobtail on the school’s private driving circuit.
Students gradually move to secondary routes, cities, traffic lights and areas with pedestrians. Then they drive 70 percent loaded to Sherbrooke where they learn up- and down-shifting on hills. Later, they practice crossing the border at St. Bernard de Lacolle.
For their practicum, students team up with specially trained carrier drivers, and go on extended trips.
D’Amour and Millier keep tabs on these companies, while the companies and students both fill out practicum reports.
Ultimately, students can be sure of getting full-time work within one week of graduating. “All my students are working,” says D’Amour. “For SGT and Schneider, we can’t make enough drivers for them.”
Some recruiters sign up students before they finish their courses. For example, on Jan. 17, 12 students from St-Hyacinthe began a 400-hour course. “They all have jobs (already),” says Millier.
The right students are difficult to find. Most are recruited through newspaper ads. D’Amour wants to include more Quebec Anglophones by translating his program material into English.”Anybody can start a truck driving school, but you need to pay $10 to get a permit to sing in the Metro,” Millier adds.” Why don’t you need a permit to teach a driving school?” n
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