Quebec takes a chance on young drivers to fill shortage

by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. — When an instructor with 28 years of training under his belt declares that eager young teens can become great drivers, that mainlines serious confidence into Quebec’s young driver program. Get them into a truck at 17 years of age and soon, they will be the best, and fleets will be clamoring for them.

“If you already have three to four years of experience at 21, you are the best drivers in the world. You have your health for long-haul driving,” declares Rene Tremblay, an instructor at the Centre de formation en transport de Charlesbourg (CFTC), one of Quebec’s two big government-funded trucking schools.

The CFTC and its sister school north of Montreal, the Centre de formation du transport routier Saint-Jérôme (CFTR), ran 40 students aged 17 and 18 through a pilot project that finished in 2014. Called the Programme enrichi d’accès à la conduite de véhicules lourds (enriched access program toward the driving of heavy vehicles), or PEACVL, it offered a special exemption from the usual minimum age of 19 for getting a Class 1 licence.

And starting this year, the CFTC and CFTR have begun taking more same-aged students, up to 300 in all, in an enhanced version of the PEACVL. (This expanded PEACVL will end on Apr. 8, 2020, and the SAAQ will examine these young drivers’ records of road safety and any demerits off their licences).

There is a national shortage of drivers here now, around the next bend, whatever. So, for something as radical as lowering the Class 5 licensing age, it is worth going beyond the carefully worded, albeit frank, report on PEACVL published this year by the province’s vehicle licensing body, the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ), to take a peek through the eyes of an instructor and program coordinator.

“What is fun with that project, is that trucking is the first job they’d had. Most students we have at CFTC, it is their second job,” Tremblay says. And this is exactly the point of the exercise: make it possible for kids to choose driving as their first career. Don’t let them get away, perhaps never to return.

“(The program) is good like that. Many, many students like to drive trucks after they leave school, but they have to wait until they are 19. But young guys who are good workers will find work elsewhere. They won’t come back at 19 because they have a job, money, family. We see them come back to our classrooms 20 years later to fulfill their dreams,” Tremblay adds.

There were some bugs in the pilot program that Tremblay would like to see corrected, like the kids having to sign a 24-month contract with a trucking company without knowing what sort of driving they would prefer. Tremblay thinks it would be better to show young people what trucking is like, before signing up with companies.

He says, “It was not like they started the program and then only later signed on with companies. They had to sign contracts. They knew they wanted to be truckers, but didn’t always know what kind of transport they wanted to do. It is a problem not just with the young ones. It is a problem with some other students who come to CFTC.

“It was pretty good when the kid had a relationship with the company, son of a dad, etc., you know a little bit about the company. But I had some students with no relationships with companies. Sometimes I made the match between a student and a company. That could work well. But if the student did not have a relationship, it might not work well. Now, I have more experience with the program and I suggest that students spend a day with a company, whether B-train, four-axle – go for it.”

But part of the experience was learning to man up, to honour commitments, even if some might wish they could switch to another company.

“The young guys have to learn that if you sign, you have to do what you sign for,” Tremblay says. And in any case, after the 24-month contract ends, and the young folks have their Class 1, they can move on to other companies.

“A couple of guys were not happy, but they completed their 24 months, got their Class 1, and moved to other companies. The companies were a bit mad, but the kids and the companies made money,” Tremblay says.

The SAAQ report mentioned that a few of the students had “attitude problems.” What does that mean? Well, it’s no surprise to hear that operating a 500-hp rig is a bit of a rush, and, of course, it is no surprise to any parent that the youth of today are not the least bit reluctant to speak their minds whenever it suits them.

“‘I’m in a big truck. I want to do this. I want to do that.’ They would argue and talk a bit more than the older drivers. But not much. I started driving when I was 17 and I didn’t say nothing. But this generation talks more. They want a life more. It is not just in trucking. Trucking is still a hard, hard life, 70 hours a week. They don’t know what 70 hours a week is like,” Tremblay says.

Underlining his respect for the students and their efforts, Tremblay notes, “They learn very fast. The only thing is that they have to slow down. For sure. They liked (the experience). They were pretty serious for their age.”

And the industry, staring down the barrel of a massive driver shortage, should take note of this powerful endorsement by Tremblay of the training of young drivers.

“When they finish they have good training, and are the best drivers for their age. They are 19 and they have about three years of experience already, and other companies are looking to take them.”

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