MONTREAL, Que. - It is a quarter to eight in the morning. Students form little clutches in the briefing room, some sorting their assigned lists of destinations in the most efficient order, others wait...
MONTREAL, Que. – It is a quarter to eight in the morning. Students form little clutches in the briefing room, some sorting their assigned lists of destinations in the most efficient order, others waiting for the call to head out into the yard to do their circle checks. Clipboard-carrying instructors greet one another in the hallway.
Soon the smell of diesel and the sound of trucks fill the air at the Centre de formation du transport routier Saint-Jerome (CFTR), one of the two biggest government-operated truck training centres in Quebec. See their French and English Web site at www.csrdn.qc.ca/cftr/ .
Located about a half-hour drive north of Montreal, not too far from the Mirabel airport, this modern school graduates about 700 truckers a year: It welcomes two new group of students every two weeks: 16 for the day program and 16 for the evening program; with a six-month waiting period to get in, the school is seldom idle.
Each group of students will spend four months here: Studies include 200 hours of classroom instruction, where they will learn about health and safety issues, laws and regulations, navigational equipment, running a business and much more. They will spend another 415 hours practicing.
Instructors have the flexibility to spend extra time helping students over their weak spots.
“Some students are very good in the classroom, but need extra practice driving. Some are very good drivers, but less so in the classroom,” Charbonneau says.
Competition is fairly stiff for seats; the school charges only $150. Roughly a quarter of those who attend the mandatory information sessions will hear the call of the highway, pass the aptitude tests and meet the scholastic requirements. Graduates earn a Diploma in Vocational Studies and a virtual guarantee of a job upon graduation.
Students spend the first two weeks in the classroom, and take a written test for their beginners licence before they start working around the trucks. Within two more weeks they will be driving, and by the end of week six they will have their Class 1 licence. When not in the regular classrooms, students may be found in the computer room, getting hands-on practice operating Qualcomm communication equipment. They will spend time in a four-trailer truck bay learning how to secure loads; today it is a few lifts of lumber on two trailers and big rolls of coil steel on another.
“Here they learn how to throw a strap over a load,” says Michael Charbonneau, who has been an instructor here for seven years. “It’s a skill,” he adds.
When Charbonneau began teaching there were 31 teachers; now there are about 93, depending on the time of year. The instructor-student ratio is 1:4 for practice and 1:16 in the classroom, the envy of any public school.
Between the trailers is a mockup of a brake system, and through a door in the next bay over is a wash station where students learn how to get their trucks spick and span. Across a stretch of asphalt is a training warehouse with seven loading docks. Here students learn how to operate electric and manual floor levelers, and practice distributing loads properly in trailers with a forklift. And of course there are the trucks: 100 tractors, the youngest of which are four 2005 Mack CNX613s, and 50-some flatbeds and 50 box trailers. There is plenty of room on the school property to practice maneuvers, including a 3.6-kilometre road circuit.
Practice sessions begin with pairs of trucks: two students and an instructor in a lead truck with a bunk, and two students following in a day cab. As their skills improve, they practice backing up, hauling B-trains, and even taking turns with a dump truck. All of the trailers are 90 per cent loaded for realistic handling.
Later on, students learn city driving and negotiating industrial parks. They are assigned lists of places they must drive to by themselves, with real bills of lading. They also do some real deliveries related to government business; e.g., distributing rebuilt computers to schools. The course ends with a two week practicum, which students arrange themselves by contacting any of the scores of companies which maintain close ties with the school, and whose logos and contact information line two hallways in the main building.