The recent proposal in Ontario to initiate apprenticeships in the trucking industry can’t find success soon enough.
Once established in Canada’s industrial centre, it won’t be long before other provinces realize the necessity of guaranteeing progressive training standards. With the emphasis on more modern skills such as effective communications, computer literacy and customer relations, the industry can no longer rely on just any wheel jockey to fill the driver’s seat simply because they know how to “steer and gear.” And, ironically, the industry no longer seems to need anyone who’s only mechanically inclined to take over the driver’s duties, since many of the functions in a modern truck are governed by sealed electronic controls. (In my view, and I presume that others will agree, this is a tragedy, since it means that much of the finesse related to driving large vehicles is being lost. When was the last time you saw a “five and four” in a highway tractor? And if you’ve ever driven one, then you’re dating yourself even more.)
Nevertheless, trucking’s future drivers require a training framework that reflects the real world they will be exposed to once they are alone behind the wheel. What would such a program look like?
First, it must be formalized. New drivers need to understand the minimum requirements in each subject area, and these requirements have to be written in clear language. This will also become increasingly more important if the industry remains bent on recruiting from foreign sources.
Second, it must be exclusive. By establishing rigid entry standards for prospective drivers, the industry saves itself a lot of future difficulty by ensuring that only qualified candidates are eligible for the rigorous training involved. In turn, there will be a corresponding increase in job satisfaction for new drivers when they realize that they are part of a larger process that places a great deal of value on their personal attributes. This heightens the importance of trucking as a career and strengthens the mutual commitment of both driver and employer. It also recognizes that drivers themselves want the accreditation of professional standards to back up a potential career in trucking.
Third, it must be consistent. There are already too many instances of confusing and contradictory regulations that frustrate everyone from drivers to CEOs. When everyone agrees that certain standards are the norm, then the task of reinforcing those standards is more manageable and self-generating.
Fourth, it must be proactive, recognizing that the motoring public will continue to demand ever more responsibility from commercial drivers. Over the past several years there has been a devastating erosion of respect by the general public for truck drivers, so it is in everyone’s interest to commit to rebuilding our lost image of professionalism. No one denies that this is a major undertaking. And although the price of effective training is considerable, it is more easily accepted if the astronomical costs of insurance premiums and claims can be brought under control. Until we can prove that we have our own house in order, the industry will be in a very poor position to turn around and insist that government tighten up the minimum driving requirements for private citizens, something which all commercial drivers have been demanding for years.
Fifth, it must be market driven. Only in trucking does it seem that a shortage of a commodity is not followed by a rise in its value. Wages for drivers and rates for owner/operators have been stagnant for years – increasing these revenues will maintain the strength of the available driver pool, since satisfactory driver pay is the only way to ensure that fewer people leave the business because of its inability to provide a decent living.
Finally, once the years of apprenticeship are far behind, we can hope that the industry will reward and recognize the efforts of O/Os in a public way. This year that recognition goes to two veterans, both recipients of various honours as Owner/Operators of the Year.
Irvin Duncan and Ren Robert deserve all the praise that’s already been heaped upon them in recognition of their long outstanding careers, both behind the wheel and in their communities. Together with many past winners, Mr. Duncan and Mr. Robert have demonstrated that excellence in one’s craft is its own reward.
This virtue characterizes only those who have the many ingredients that make up a winner: talent, patience and determination, preparation and attitude. Prospective new drivers would do well to focus on these two gentlemen whom the industry considers to be among the very best representatives that trucking has to offer.
And for the rest of us, who fall somewhere between rookie and champion, they provide a standard which reminds us of why we’ve chosen trucking as a profession.
– A long time O/O, Mike Smith is a member of OBAC’s board of directors. He can be reached at email@example.com.