Driver training schools truck into challenging future

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Truck driver training schools must navigate a difficult future as increased operational costs bite into revenue and prospective students shop for lower-fee options.

Operating in Ontario’s trucking heartland, Mississauga-based Richards Truck Driving School is witnessing declining student enrolment over the past few months. Operations manager Radek Rogowski says he charges $7,700 for the MELT (mandatory entry-level training) program but schools in the area are training students for $4,000. “There is no way to compete with that. I can’t drop fees and make the numbers work. We are pretty much down to the bone,” he says.

MELT training at Richards Driving School
Radek Rogowski, operations manager at Richards Driving School, delivers in-class training as part of the MELT program in Mississauga, Ont. (File photo: Leo Barros)

Another school in the same city, A1 Transportation Academy echoes Rogowski’s sentiments. Its founder and owner Lakhwinder Singh says his biggest challenge is pricing his training program. “I am barely making money as there is cutthroat competition.”

Across the country on the West Coast, the increased cost of acquiring equipment is adding to the pain. Amrit Grewal, owner and instructor, Sarabha Driving School in Langley, B.C., says the cost of used trucks and trailers has increased substantially.

Increasing costs

He says although he gets discounts with fuel cards, higher diesel prices are also affecting the bottom line and profit margins. Maintenance costs have increased, too. “Hourly rates have gone up in most facilities to counteract their rent or mortgage payment increases,” he says.

Grewal says while the cost for some parts remains relatively the same with small increases, prices for others have skyrocketed. “It is hit or miss when it comes to parts being readily available,” he adds.

Amrit Grewal shows students how to inspect an engine.
Amrit Grewal trains students on how to conduct a pre-trip inspection at Sarabha Driving School in Langley, B.C. (File photo: Supplied)

While increased expenditures are taking a toll across the country, schools in Manitoba face challenges to hire instructors.

The recruitment process sometimes takes up to three months, says Remon Yang, owner of Professional Transport Driver Training School, which operates in Winnipeg and Brandon.

Instructor recruitment delays in Manitoba

Candidates must complete a 11-day, $2,950 Manitoba Trucking Association Class 1 (MELT) instructor preparation course that includes a road test. The course takes place every three months, with the next one in September followed by another in November.

Yang says, “If I hire someone today, they must wait about three months. It is very expensive to recruit instructors even if they are interested.”

There are also wait times for the ministry road tests that candidates must pass. Yang says he pays for the MTA course and ministry test along with a salary for prospective instructors while they wait, and the costs add up quickly.

Raising fees not an option

In B.C., Grewal says he has been fortunate and hasn’t had to increase fees as student enrollment has been steady.

Yang says although it is unfortunate that fewer people are interested in longhaul trucking, students are still walking in the door to seek employment in the construction, oilfield and forestry sectors.

In Ontario, Singh says despite the increased expenses, raising fees is not an option in the Greater Toronto Area due to the number of schools competing for business. He said referrals have helped keep student numbers up.

For Rogowski, tough decisions may be approaching sooner than later. He sees business shrinking and is trying to attract other avenues of revenue like corporate training. “I have a lot of balls in the air, but when the money runs out you have to make tough decisions,” he says.

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Leo Barros is the associate editor of Today’s Trucking. He has been a journalist for more than two decades, holds a CDL and has worked as a longhaul truck driver. Reach him at

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  • Great you are training new drivers…we need them.
    A course on road courtesy or at least teach some during the in truck training would be nice. The new drivers and some of the experienced drivers will benefit.
    It’s not all about the schedule or appointments.

  • These are hard times for schools, there is so much competition in pricing, I don’t understand how 1 school can charge $10,000 for class A in Ontario and another for same melt program for $5200. Do Ontario trainers have to under go a Melt Instructor training course before they can train

  • As an owner of a corporation training center operating in BC it is clear that driving schools and the trucking industry in general are in trouble. The increased operating costs and requirements of ICBC to operate MELT are damaging to the industry as a whole.
    Unfortunately, MELT has not resulted in safer roads or drives. In fact, the program might be over kill. Students come in enthusiastic and leave drained. They too must manage their money, work, and family while training for a better future.
    Currently, the Surrey ICBC center is using Unitow for their testing location. The location is not ideal for new truck drivers. Student are having wonderful drives only to fail entering or leaving the tight yard. The fail rate is very high which is also affecting the trucking industry and defeating individuals trying to break into the industry. Additionally, students are finishing a 10k program and waiting 2 months to test and if they fail another two months as there is a backlog due to fails and not enough testing locations as ICBC has closed most locations for class 1. After paying 10k in BC students do not have the funds for additional training which then means more fails, more backlog and less industry drivers. Everyone is feeling the pressure. Logistic companies funding workers are also being put out as their already trained drivers woth experience partake in MELT and then fail a road test only to wait month and months for retesting. After a single fail ICBC rules are that a student can retest in two weeks. Currently, it’s two months.

    There is a lot of work for the industry to accomplish to make trucking feasible for all stake holders. If action is not taken soon there will be even more of a shortage of drivers to deliver our goods

    • The fact that the student’s fail largely at the entrance of the site shows that they have not been trained for driving in tight corners and also shows that they have not been given the tools to understand how to navigate this. This also shows that the rest of the program has failed the students in the process cause the schools push through as well as the government has not built the program to work other than a fast money grab and show the students how to move a truck. The training program must get overhauled to work and generate safe drivers for the industry as well as the private passengers

  • The industry needs to put 1 cent a km into a fund for training new drivers and for treatment of sick and injured transport workers. This includes all lease ops or driver Inc drivers. We also need a plan to help small businesses be able to get training for new drivers and a insurance provider that is a non-profit back by the gov . Driver trainer schools should able to get insurance at at 1000 a month with the gov and industry paying the balance

    • How about no , drivers inc should be banned so l you think drivers should support driver who are breaking tax rules . I will pass thanks further to they if you are paying workers comp you will get paid if you are injured on the job . If you get sick than either you have your own short and long term disability or your company does.

      If you are drivers inc and don’t have insurance that is on you , don’t ask other people to bail you out because you decided not to have coverage

  • Well 1st of all perhaps some of these truck driving school owners should reflect on their business practices. Perhaps some of the “newer” owners of driving schools should realize there are reasons for the MELT program. See the Humboldt crash, or the 6 or so incidents where trucks with overweight loads have hit overpasses in the lower mainland in BC. The MELT program is intended for comprehensive one on one training, not jamming 3 – 4 students into a truck cab as individual lessons. 3 students at 4000$ is more then 1 guy at 7000$. It’s done all the time, these “new owners” to it to themselves, where as they long time owners in the industry for 15 – 20 years are paying the price. Perhaps speaking, reading and understanding English would be a great start. or French,

  • Why don’t these companies solicit funding from all the trucking companies out there on the road?
    and for those carriers that will help out with funding then they would receive preferential graduates
    it just seems logical?

      • Good point.
        Maybe we should cut taxpayer funded benefits to educational institutes, rehabilitation programs, EI retraining programs, homeless shelters, and welfare programs. Let’s just go all capitalist, and let everyone sink or swim on their own !!!

        • I see too many disabled worker in homeless shelters without providing for those that disabled. Proving for injured drivers should done by the industry and gov but too many times their usefully working days are done sooner than needed

          • Nonsense if they are hurt on the job they are covered by workers comp.

            If you are a lease operator or a driver inc and choose not to have workers comp that is on you.

            Why should l or anyone else have to pay for you injury because you decided not to have workers comp !

  • When it comes to a school, you get what you pay for.

    The carrier that hired me asked which school I graduated from. They said that school turned out good candidates. Some schools they won’t even consider hiring a candidate from because of the quality of training they receive even though they had an A licence.

    Some drivers don’t seem to realize that you have to turn a safety tri-angle base 90 degrees otherwise it blows over from passing trucks, one fellow I met didn’t know which air line went where and he had a licence.

    Courtesy and respect for other drivers on the roads is also something newer drivers also need to learn too.

  • Let’s be frank about this whole thing. Anyone can be taught to drive a truck. Hell, I would wager you could even teach a chimpanzee to drive a truck. But, just because someone can drive a truck, it doesn’t make them a truck driver.
    As a small carrier that relies on schools to provide me with new hires, I find I can only do business with schools that will send me truck drivers instead of license holders.
    To date, which is a time span of 40+ years, I have only been able to find one school (shout out to the gang at OTDS) that will train truck drivers for us. There may be a second one lurking out there somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet.
    In our own program, in which OTDS was instrumental in developing, we use MELT as a starting point instead of a finishing line. Is there a cost to that approach? Yes. Is the cost worth it? Absolutely.
    What it boils down to is that I can put idle iron back into production a lot quicker, with less cost on the in-house training and mentoring side, and with considerably more confidence that I am putting a much safer, much more aware, driver on the road.
    For all intents and purposes, the school(s) we work with are an integral part of our entire hiring and on-boarding program.
    For all the schools lamenting that they “have” to compete with the cut-rate schools, stop crying. Train truck drivers instead of license holders. The industry will flock to your door, and you won’t have to worry about filling your classrooms … you’ll be worried about finding enough trainers. Remember, it’s not about the money. It’s about the quality of driver you are producing.

    Michael Ludwig
    Ludwig Transport Limited