MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Mandatory entry-level training (MELT) won’t solve the driver shortage, but it is a step in the right direction.
That’s according to a panel that spoke at the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario’s second annual conference on February 16 at the Centre for Health and Safety Innovation in Mississauga, Ont.
Panelists included Northbridge Insurance’s David Goruk, Bison Transport’s Garth Pitzel, the head of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, Mike Millian, and the Ontario Trucking Association’s Rolf VanderZwaag. They discussed what they believe will come of MELT and what changes carriers can expect when it officially gets put in place on July 1.
It won’t solve the driver shortage
(L-R): Garth Pitzel, David Goruk, Mike Millian, and Rolf VanderZwaag
Those who think the new MELT standard is going to solve trucking’s driver shortage problem are living in a dream world, panelists agreed.
“I don’t think we’re going to see an increase in drivers coming through with MELT,” VanderZwaag said. “This isn’t going to solve the driver shortage. The driver shortage is going to be solved by the work experience.”
And that experience, starts with MELT, he explained. Because with a standard of training, more people will start off in trucking on the right foot.
“By changing the entry process, we’re giving people a better experience by preparing them properly,” he said. “This is going to help employers because they will get a better candidate to start with.”
And having a better driver to start with, means less turnover, and less people with a Class A licence collecting dust, Millian added.
“We don’t have a shortage of people with a Class A licence,” he said. “There’s lot of people out there with a licence who don’t use it. A lot of those people (who get their licence through licensing mills) don’t end up in the industry. They get told they’ll get their licence for $900 and they’ll get a job. And then they don’t get a job…and they leave and bad mouth the industry. It hurts the whole image of the profession. But people don’t know the full story. MELT will change this because now there will be a standard.”
Goruk added: “MELT is going to weed out those people who think that the industry is looking for anyone they can get. It’s going to take those people out of the equation.”
Training should never stop
Even though MELT isn’t solving the driver shortage problem, it will fundamentally change the way prospective drivers will be trained, panelists said.
“What MELT is going to do is, it’s going to cut off the bottom feeders,” Millian said. “But training can’t stop just because they gave MELT. I used to be a driver trainer and I would tell the drivers, you’ll only learn 5% of what you need to know here. The other 95% is out there on the road.”
Millian said that carriers are going to have to continue training and change their finishing program once MELT comes into play.
Goruk agreed, reminding fleet executives in the room, that MELT isn’t even up to par yet, in terms of its competition.
“At Northbridge, we will provide the driver with three year’s experience if they’ve completed a training program at a certified school,” he said. “MELT doesn’t meet this. MELT will not make them insurable from the get go.
“Schools in this room are already exceeding the MELT standard of 103.5 hours. So it’s a good stepping stone but the carriers need to progress with their own training programs.”
For instance, Goruk said that MELT will show students how to drive using a 53-ft trailer. But what if the company you drive for has flat beds?
“Yes, the schools will train to a standard,” he said. “Yet if that driver is working for a tank operation…they need to learn that type of equipment.”
According to Pitzel, Bison is already doing this through its 13-week finishing program required by its new drivers.
“In 2015, 42% of the drivers hired didn’t meet our driver criteria,” he said, adding new drivers are coached and trained at Bison until they reach the desired level of competency.
Millian likened MELT to hockey: “We don’t put a kid though the juniors and throw him in the NHL. They’re still nurtured and trained every step of the way…They’re not the best when they first join the NHL, they get better as they get older.”
While MELT is a good starting place to help solve trucking’s problems, more needs to be done, said VanderZwaag.
“I think a fact that’s true of this industry…is that there is tons of training going on in the industry, but it’s informal. By formalizing this training, we’re moving in the right direction…we want the government to recognize this as a skilled trade. And they will, but only after industry does it.”
VanderZwaag said that industry needs to start paying attention to job advertisements more closly so that truck driving can become a skilled trade and become less of a job of last resort.
He also thinks that a major shift needs to happen after MELT where instead of employees reaching out to employers after training, the employers should reach out to the trainee first.
“Employers are going to have to connect with potential employees earlier in the stage and help with that screening and say I’ll make a commitment to you, if you do the training, if you make a commitment to me and be my employee,” he said.
“In some ways (MELT) feels like a barrier but in fact, it raises the sense of the occupation meaning something. What we’re gong to get rid of is this notion that having a Class A licence makes you a truck driver…Overall I think with MELT we are hoping to get more provinces on board.”