Ontario tractor-trailer apprenticeship program, tax credits in question

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Guy Broderick says members of the disbanded Industrial Power Tractor-Trailer Board continue to meet.

TORONTO, Ont. – Ontario’s decision to dissolve the province’s College of Trades has placed a voluntary apprenticeship program for tractor-trailer drivers in question, with some fleets now wondering about the future of tax benefits for apprentices they helped to train.

The Tractor-Trailer Commercial Driver Trade Board, which played an advisory role in the program, was abruptly disbanded through an email distributed on Oct. 24, confirms APPS Transport recruiting and driver training supervisor Guy Broderick, who was the board’s chairman at the time.

“Apprenticeship in Ontario needs to be modernized and transformed to better meet the needs of apprentices, employers, and industry,” the government said when announcing plans to dissolve the College of Trades. Through the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, it promised to set 1:1 journeyman-to-apprentice ratios, place a moratorium on trade classifications, and look for ways to better promote skilled trades.

The new governing model was to be unveiled this spring, but details have yet to be released.

The voluntary tractor-trailer apprenticeships go well beyond the requirements of Ontario’s mandatory entry-level training (MELT) regime for new truck drivers. Anyone in the province who wants to earn a Class A licence must take 103.5 hours of training before taking their road test, but the voluntary apprentices must complete 12 weeks of in-cab mentoring and up to 40 weeks of workplace training.

“It’s not just the regular day-to-day training that every company should be doing,” says Caroline Blais, recruiting manager at Kriska Holdings, which actively participated in the program.

Kriska is now among the fleets wondering about the future of $5,000 in annual tax credits offered to employers that supported the apprentices, and the $2,000 to be awarded to drivers who completed the program, Blais says.

The Ontario Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit for each eligible apprentice was capped at $15,000 over a 36-month period for those who began a program after April 23, 2015 and before Nov. 15, 2017. But when announcing plans to wind down that credit in the fall of 2017, the previous Liberal government unveiled plans to introduce a new Graduated Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (GAGE).

Those grant plans, like the college itself, have been put on hold.

“The GAGE program was not included in the 2019 Ontario budget and will not be rolling out,” says Tanya Blazina, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

It was a surprise to Blais.

“Nobody that I know of received any notification that GAGE is on hold,” she said. “I reached out to our employment training consultant who confirmed that there is currently no money forthcoming.”

Ongoing struggles

It isn’t the only struggle that the voluntary apprenticeships for truck drivers has faced since first being established. Disagreements about the requirements to enter the program were among them.

Blais refers to the way the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities began to require a Grade 10 high school diploma or equivalent. That sounds easy enough to meet on the surface, she says, but many of the trucking industry’s newest recruits are from other countries and lack the documentation to prove a high school education.

Aging workers looking for second careers have sometimes found the added challenges of Canadian high schools that have closed, she adds. “They’re like, ‘I’m not working. I need a job. This other company will hire me yesterday.’”

The apprenticeship’s voluntary nature also limited participation.

The Ontario College of Trades reports that 205 journeymen have completed their tractor-trailer apprenticeships or passed a trade equivalency assessment, and 253 apprentices have signed up along with their employers.

There were also times that the Tractor-Trailer Commercial Driver Trade Board lacked the members needed to form a quorum and make decisions, Broderick says.

But the board had recently re-established itself, with representatives coming from fleets including Challenger Motor Freight, Erb Transport, Kriska Transport, and APPS Transport.

“We basically rewrote the book on the apprenticeship program,” Broderick says of their work, referring to the way learning outcomes were realigned with a National Occupational Standard – a list of skills and abilities expected to play a role as Canada looks to develop a national mandatory entry-level training standard. “We were really turning the wheels, and then this happens.”

Members of the trade board have continued to meet despite the province’s announcement, looking for ways to keep the apprenticeships alive. “Every one of us sees the benefit,” Broderick says.

For now, Blais worries that the struggles could set back national discussions about recognizing trucking as a skilled trade.

Said Blais: “We want to be able to promote this as a skilled trade.”

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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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