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The problem with mandatory training


You’d think that with the whining I do about the lacking abilities of many new drivers, I’d be overjoyed at news that the Ontario government plans to introduce mandatory entry-level training. Not so much. I’d feel better had it not been announced immediately after a newspaper expose about the training industry, making it appear as a knee-jerk reaction. We know how well those turn out.

I don’t deny the obvious need for better training. You may recall, a couple years ago I outlined my idea of what the ideal driver testing would consist of, for which I was heartily scorned through a few e-mails. Now, it’s a good idea. Oh well.

There are a few concerns I have with not only the ramifications of such a law, but also the way it’ll be instituted. We have the same Liberal government we’ve had for over a decade, which, in my opinion, ranks high in incompetency and dishonesty. Why assume that the people who brought us ORNGE, and cancelled gas power plants, are capable of anything practical and efficient now?

Mandatory speed limiters on trucks in Ontario demonstrates my first concern. It seemed that experienced, seat-of-the-pants input was highly unwelcome, and ignored.

The OTA basically wrote the law; the government just passed it. This isn’t a scathing diatribe on large carriers and the OTA. They were doing what they thought was best, and since they have a full-time communications staff – and apparently the ear of the government – theirs was the primary input. What I disagree with are recommendations from only one group – no matter who that group is – carrying so much power. The information-sharing process needs to be much more wide-based and open, if we wish to call ours a fair and open society.

Who will ultimately create this new mandate? Carriers of all sizes seem unable to agree on anything; personal bias and business interests always seem in control. When the law is passed, will it actually reflect reality?

I’ve unfortunately never had an applicant from one of the premier schools we read about, but any driving school graduates I’ve interviewed haven’t been hired. I’ve hired a lot of graduates of the School of Hard Knocks, with favourable results. Most driving school graduates seem to have been taught how to pass their test – period. Actual real-life skills were usually painfully scarce. Knowledge of the mechanical workings of the truck were limited, if not altogether absent, leaving me with no confidence in their abilities, yet some had already had several years’ employment behind the wheel.

Will there be provisions for previously acquired skills? People raised on farms or around construction equipment, for instance, already have a good skill set available, but many couldn’t afford a full-out course, which may be totally unnecessary anyway.

Failing to recognize these skills would deprive the industry of a lot of good, cautious drivers.

My oldest brother-in-law had extensive experience with equipment, and after riding with me for 20 minutes, got behind the wheel and drove as though he’d been doing it for years.

He’s now holder of a 15-year spotless record.

My start came with dump trucks, mostly off-road, graduating slowly to tractor-trailers on local gravel hauls, always surrounded by highly experienced professionals. Is this type of effective feeder system going to be eliminated by virtue of finances? When I started my mechanic apprenticeship, my past experiences were recognized by a 1,000-hour reduction in training time. Similar reductions in truck driver training only seem fair, but again, who decides the parameters?

A system such as this will obviously involve a cost that most newcomers can’t afford. It’s for this reason I think the government needs to accompany the law with a finance program and require all pre-licence training to be implemented by third-party facilities, not in-house, so trainees aren’t trapped by the carrier who gave them ‘free’ training.

I think that too often, carriers’ in-house training is biased towards company procedures rather than actual skill development. Also, insurance companies need to be legislated to allow small carriers to hire these new graduates – a luxury currently enjoyed only by the big players.

My final point is only a matter of foolish pride, but you long-time drivers will agree. If every new driver has been through thorough, legislated training, we could see an upswing of newly graduated drivers, with the ink on the licence barely dry, referring to themselves as ‘professional truck drivers’.

Not so fast, Junior. When you just stepped out of the exam office, you aren’t automatically on the same page as I am. Give it a few years. Wait until you’ve seen your experienced actions prevent accidents nearly caused by other drivers, or put your 40-ft dump trailer in the air with full confidence it’ll stay on its wheels. Wait until you can tie down and tarp a load, knowing that you won’t be stopping in five miles to move a strap. Wait until you can blindside your 53-footer, or back trains around a corner. Then we’ll share the title of professional.

Until then, you are only a ‘licensed driver,’ and there’s no shame in that. On its own, it’s still an impressive accomplishment.

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Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation. Bill can be reached at williamcameron.bc@gmail.com.


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