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Respect can make trucking a more attractive option

The trucking industry is ripe with challenges - perhaps more so today than ever before. It seems that truckers are dealt one blow after another, and it really isn't fair. There are two types of people...


The trucking industry is ripe with challenges – perhaps more so today than ever before. It seems that truckers are dealt one blow after another, and it really isn’t fair. There are two types of people when it comes to dealing with such challenges: those who talk about it, and those who do something about it.

It’s all too common for people to acknowledge there is a problem, and seem to hope complaining about it will make it disappear.

That’s why attending the Western Transportation Advisory Council (WESTAC) Skills for Transportation Conference was a breath of fresh air.

Over two days, a wide range of people from various transportation sectors gathered to discuss the looming skills shortage epidemic and brainstorm ways of dealing with the situation.

By the end of the conference, one delegate summed up the value of the venture quite well.

“When I was invited to speak at this conference, I didn’t know what WESTAC was,” admits Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council managing director, Linda Gauthier. “Now I’m asking, where’s EASTAC?”

Although the unexpected events of Sept. 11 put a bit of a dent in the expected attendance, those who did show up were treated to a thought-provoking series of discussions that will hopefully help them better understand the problem and how it can be conquered. Rail and truck; management and union – they all came to address the issue.

During the conference, it became abundantly clear the industry’s poor image is among the top problems. The average age of Canadian truckers continues to climb, and not a whole lot of kids have their sights set on a career piloting iron.

I found myself trying to remember if I ever considered becoming a trucker myself … back when I spent that mandatory afternoon session with a high school guidance councillor.

The answer was a resounding, ‘No;’ … but why not?

Well, for starters, my parents were insistent that I pursue a post-secondary education of one form or another. It would have been fine if I chose to attend a trade school to become an electrician or a plumber.

But a trucker? No way. You don’t go to school to drive a truck. Anyone can drive a truck. Unfortunately, that was the mentality shared by most of the people who helped shape my future.

Now that I’ve had a chance to work within the industry and am more informed about the rigors of trucking, I find myself wondering why the profession is discriminated against so strongly. There’s nothing simple about operating an 18-wheeler through a city during rush hour. The modern owner/operator has to be a business whiz to turn a respectable profit and a technological mastermind to operate the latest techno-toys constantly changing the face of the industry.

The operators of these rigs are on the highways every day, running wheel-to-wheel with four-wheelers and school buses. Wouldn’t it make sense for truck drivers to receive just as much training as other tradespeople, such as hairstylists for example?

An Alberta group, called the Transportation Training and Development Association (TT&DA) certainly feels this way.

Headed by Canadian Freightways president and chief executive officer, Darshan Kailly, the group has fought vigilantly to get a truck driving apprenticeship program accepted by Alberta Learning. It would be dubbed an Optional Certification Trade Program, and it would be a win-win-win situation all around.

Would-be truckers who want to ensure they have the best training can do so through a reputable trade school and earn a certificate, which would be highly respected within the industry.

The province would benefit from having better trained drivers on the roads, ensuring the province’s highways become a safer place for all motorists.

The industry would benefit by having a pool of well-trained drivers from which to hire. And perhaps, more importantly, professional truck drivers would finally get the respect they deserve as just that – professionals.

If TT&DA is successful in getting the program approved, it could pave the way for other provinces to form similar programs.

Suddenly, getting an inadequate education from a licensing mill would no longer be an option. And the quality of people attracted into the industry would greatly improve.

For whatever reason, Alberta Learning has been a bit stubborn in rejecting the idea.

But Darshan and his team aren’t discouraged. In fact, they seem more determined than ever to pursue this objective.

As I said earlier, there are two types of people. Let’s hope those who are doers are justly rewarded for their efforts.

– James Menzies heads our western news bureau and he can be reached at 403-275-3160.


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