LANGLEY, B.C. — If a pilot project getting under way in British Columbia works out as hoped, it could help lead to a steady stream of qualified new drivers taking to the province’s roads in the future.
The B.C. Professional (Truck) Driver Training pilot project is being organized by the BCTA and the Transportation Career Development Association (TransCDA) and, according to the BCTA’s vice-president of policy, communications and partnerships, Louise Yako, it’s “a fairly comprehensive training program.”
The program will kick off with eight weeks of classroom and practical training followed by four weeks unpaid, one-on-one work experience with a trained coach at an employer’s business. Participants will then perform 1,000 hours of paid, work-based learning where, Yako says, “the trainee would be performing all of the tasks that you would expect an entry-level driver to perform.”
The pilot program started taking shape some four years ago. “We started a human resources planning committee,” says Yako, “and noted that a strong training base for professional drivers was lacking in the province.” That led to the development of a strategic plan for the BCTA membership in particular and the industry in general to help address the issue.
One of the requirements for admission to the pilot project is a Class 1 learner’s licence, so potential trainees need to be committed to the concept. “We’ve set a fairly high bar in terms of the prerequisites,” Yako says. “So we expect that person to go and at least be seen by a physician and give us assurance that they would be able to pass the medical.”
Yako says students will also be expected to obtain their actual Class 1 licence at about the halfway point of the in-school portion, though the actual timing of the test is one of the things being evaluated in the pilot project.
Undergoing the physical first is a new wrinkle. Currently, the medical component isn’t required until after a person has earned the Class 1, but “that seemed a bit backwards to us,” Yako says. “We want to know if a person can meet the medical standards up-front and I think that helps the trainee as well.”
Yako says trainees must also have completed the air brake course and will be required to take a TOWES (Test of Workplace Essential Skills) test, which gauges literacy, numeracy and arithmetic skills to ensure a candidate can take in the classroom-based portion of the learning.
The organizers are trying to focus not only on the knowledge required to be a successful truck driver, but on the ‘Big Picture’ above and beyond that.
“One of the things learned from our research and other, similar programs,” Yako says, “is that, while our industry gets its fair share of new entrants, a number of them only stay for a few months because they don’t have a good experience.”
Part of the reason, she says, is that they didn’t understand what the lifestyle would be like or what their choices would be in terms of the types of jobs available and the lifestyle such jobs would support.
To help in that regard, Yako says, potential trainees and their “spouses or significant others” will undergo an interview process and will also meet with the prospective employers participating in the project before the in-school training starts, “to make sure we’re matching the right student with the right employer.”
And it won’t end there. According to Yako, a training coordinator will check in with the student every two weeks and the employer will be encouraged to check in with the trainee as well, to see how things are going and find out whether or not the experience is what the trainee expected.
It’s all meant to help ensure entry-level drivers go into the business not only well-qualified, but with their eyes wide open.
“We don’t want to frustrate anybody with this process,” Yako says. “But if for whatever reason this is not the right career path for that individual we want to tell them quickly.”
Yako says that if the pilot project is successful and ends up becoming an ongoing program, its positive effects should also be felt by province’s driving schools.
“We hope (the program) will get formal approval from the Industry Training Authority,” she says, “and if that happens it will become a voluntary training standard in the province so any driver training school that meets the minimum criteria acceptable to the ITA could teach it.”
Such a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval-type of accreditation won’t simply fall from the sky and land on driving schools, of course. “There’ll be a process for schools to apply,” Yako says, “including an audit.” If a school is successful, she says, it will get listed on the ITA Web site “for people who want to make sure they are in an approved program.”
The ITA would also act as a kind of central clearinghouse, with all trainees going through an ITA-managed intake process. Trainees would get an ITA training number, Yako says, and report back at specified dates or achievement points during the training process, “so everybody knows they’re in the ITA stream.”
Driver training schools might also be attracted to the fact that, since the Industry Training Authority is a Crown corporation recognized by the provincial government, it has a certain amount of funding dollars available that could be used to subsidize training. That means an ITA-certified school could expect to receive a certain amount of dollars per student for the program.
Another advantage of the ITA approval process, Yako says, would be that “students are eligible for the normal student loans available, as well as tax credits. Trainees get tax credits and employers get tax credits for participating in the training process, so there’s a benefit for everyone all around.”
Be that as it may, all of that is in the future – and only if the pilot project is successful and gains a permanent place in the halls of British Columbia industrial training. In the meantime, it’s still a test, and one that will cost money to mount. So who’s paying for it now?
“The ITA has a budget for pilot projects and so we expect to get money from there,” Yako says. “We also received funding in the development of this training program from Service Canada, so they want to see this through.” Basically, she says, they’re cobbling together the funding necessary to make the pilot project a go. And, “so there’s skin in the game for everybody,” Yako says, students can expect to shell out around $500 each due to costs such as getting their beginners’ licence and paying for the medical, since some doctors charge for the assessment.
The pilot project is hoped to be up and running by mid-April, but as of this writing nothing is written in stone. Yako says they have a request for proposals out for the training schools and were scheduled to choose the pilot project’s training school by the middle of March. “We are also taking in applications for both trainees and employers now,” she says, “and our target start date is April 19, though we have a little bit of flexibility.”
As for choosing the school that will participate, Yako says “we expect it to meet minimum standards and we’ve set some requirements in terms of classroom space, yard space, equipment, that sort of thing. But a lot of it will depend on where we get the trainee applications from.”
Yako says that, based on population, she assumes they’ll get most of their applications for training from the lower mainland but that doesn’t mean it’ll end up happening that way. “We’ll be looking at matching the applications geographically to be the most convenient for everyone.”
The pilot project will be assessed on an ongoing basis and, assuming everything goes well and any adjustments deemed to be required are made, it should become a regular program adopted by the ITA. That won’t happen overnight, though. Yako thinks it’ll probably take about a year, considering that the pilot project calls for two months in classes, a month for the supervised work experience and, probably, 25 we
eks or so for the trainee to acquire the 1,000 hours of experience – if all goes smoothly. “Then we’ll have to make whatever adjustment are needed,” Yako says, “and I expect we’ll have to make some adjustments.”
Yako says the timing of the project has been both lucky and unlucky, considering the state of the industry and the economy. “We’re at a point where many companies have their pick of good professional drivers and so may not be thinking ahead to when the economy rebounds and they’re having to look for qualified drivers again. But we want to be prepared for when the retirements of professional drivers occur at the rate that everyone is projecting them to be.” The industry, she says will be under a lot of pressure then to come up with good people to fill those spots, and “we’re hoping to be in a position where we’ll be able to deliver those people.”
Applications are coming in already, and Yako says they’re pleased with the caliber of the applicants, who come from a variety of demographic backgrounds. “The thing I find the most positive is that many applicants are people who already have jobs and are clearly making a deliberate career change,” she says. “We expected a lot of young people, and we have some of those, but we also have people who have done other things and have decided that the transportation industry is something they want to pursue.”
More information, including application forms, is available on the BCTA Web site at www.bctrucking.com.
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