Steve Newton (center) with the Challenger trainers
CAMBRIDGE, Ont. – A major Ontario transportation company is addressing the problem of an acute driver shortage in a unique way – it has opened its own driver training school in the presence of leaders from the trucking industry.
Challenger Motor Freight launched the Challenger Transportation Training Academy at the company’s main campus in Cambridge, Ont., on Thursday. Classes open on July 15.
Industry groups have repeatedly raised the issue of driver shortage, calling it the most pressing problem facing the sector.
Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and Ontario Trucking Association, told guests at the event that the industry would face a shortage of close to 50,000 drivers by 2024.
He said the opening of the academy showed Challenger’s ability to take issues head on.
The school has been approved by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities as a registered private career college. It will run two ministry-approved courses, meeting all requirements under the mandatory entry-level training (MELT) criteria, the company said.
Students can choose either a five-week Tractor Trailer program costing $7,500 or a six-week A/Z licence course costing $8,170 in tuition. There will be additional costs for books and tests.
Training will be offered in partnership with KRTS Transportation Specialists, a leading provider of education for the transportation industry.
KRTS, which has been in the school business since 1989, has trained all of the Challenger trainers, said Matt Richardson, sales and operations manager at the company.
“Students of the academy can expect truly first-class experience, learning on quality equipment and state-of-the-art simulators,” Richardson said.
Steve Newton, Challenger’s director of safety and compliance, noted that the company has been involved in training for years.
“For over a decade, we’ve been committed to training newly licensed drivers. This is a natural path for us,” he said, referring to the launch of the academy.
Geoff Topping, vice-president of human resources at Challenger, said the response has been amazing, and the academy aims to train drivers both for the company and for others who need them.
“The main reason for doing this is to start growing our own, helping people get their licences,” he said.
The company employs about 1,200 drivers, but people are getting out of the industry because of aging demographics, he said.
Topping also referred to a number of initiatives Challenger has taken over the years to train and retain drivers. They include mentorship and training programs, peer-to-peer recognition initiatives, substantial pay raises and retirement programs, he said.
To attract more women to the industry, Challenger offers female drivers free memberships to the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada.
The company also honors drivers who have clocked one million miles, and an official said there were at least 15 drivers in that category.
“We’ve a people-first culture, and our people are our strength,” Topping said.
“We believe that if we take care of our people, they will take care of our business and that in turn will make us successful.”