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Panelists weigh in on consequences of MELT

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Mandatory entry-level training (MELT) has been in Ontario for 17 months, and so far, fleets are liking the effects the program has instilled on applicants.

At least, that was the opinion of the executives on the carrier panel at the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario’s (TTSAO) annual general meeting on December 11.

The panelists included Geoff Topping, vice-president of human resources at Challenger Motor Freight; Caroline Blais, recruiting manager, Kriska Holdings; Brian Topping, director, safety at Rosedale Group.

“What MELT has done for us in the GTA is allowed us now to approach a pool of applicants that we couldn’t consider before,” Blais explained. “Most of you know the GTA was rife with non-registered schools. So what we’ve noticed here in the GTA, is now, we at Kriska have applicants that we couldn’t pull from before.”

The challenge with the trucking industry, said Blais is the it has a low-barrier to entry.

“Before MELT, if you had $999, you could come right in to the industry and drive for 123456 Inc.,” she said. “But now, thanks to MELT, more companies like ours, can open our doors to new drivers and welcome them into the industry properly, with fair pay and proper training.”

For Rosedale’s Topping, who was excited for MELT’s rollout last year, said this was “a long time coming.”

He added that it’s comforting to know that other provinces are also considering MELT, and he believes it should be nation-wide.

“For us, it gives us piece of mind that these new drivers have taken a mandated course before they walk through our door.”

Geoff Topping said Challenger hasn’t seen a difference in terms of the quality of the drivers applying.

“The quality has been about the same,” he said. “We find most drivers coming in our finishing program can drive, but they’re not ready to be on the road. We planned on extending that anyway…but quality hasn’t been different. In terms of quantity, we have seen a dip in the number people looking to enter the industry. I don’t blame MELT for that, though. I think everyone in this room needs to work on that. We need to elevate the profession and it make it considered a profession. I don’t think MELT is the issue. One of the issues is the new drivers aren’t aware of what the industry is going to expect of them. A majority want to be home on a regular basis…and we as industry need to explain the industry better to them.”

A big side effect of new entrants not understanding the industry fully is turnover, panelists agreed.

So at Kriska to avoid turnover for new hires, Blais said it is her mission to make sure every candidate is screened. And then screened again.

“Kriska drivers are going to the U.S., it’s open board and, it’s tough work to hire for,” she said. “It’s very much a job that an experience driver feels like they don’t have to do because they’ve paid their dues so we’re proud of our retention, and we have two OTA Road Knights as great examples of how great our retention is. But when we’re hiring, we’re practical and make sure to explain to recruits that is the kind of work we do and we screen, screen, screen . If there’s a red flag in the hiring process and I’ll call and screen again. Yes turnover is a cost of doing business, but we do the best job we can to avoid it by being realistic and honest about what the job entails to new hires, as well as paying them properly and training them properly.”

At Rosedale, Topping said that newly licensed driver turnover is relatively low, thanks to the nature of the business.

“Once we invest the time in our individuals, they feel some sort of loyalty for what we did,” he said. “There has been some issues, and most issues are not related to training, or hours of work, or anything like that. At Rosedale, one of our pluses is we have so many variations of the driving job. We have local drivers, longhaul, we have switch drivers. So for us, we’ve had the ability to have someone come in and say ‘Longhaul isn’t for me, I can’t stand to stay at a truck stop by myself,’ and then we can switch over and become a city driver.”

To help combat driver turnover at Challenger, Geoff Topping says he makes sure HR programs are in place so all new hires feel supported and have someone to turn to.

“With all first-year drivers…we make sure we have a lot of extra touch points. We’ve put in a few programs to help us stay in touch with new drivers. One of them is called the Challenger Connection Program. Which involves various people throughout the company go have lunch with the recruits, and each new recruit is assigned a connector. The connector helps to integrate them into the Challenger family. And answer any questions they may have.”

And finally, said Challenger’s Topping, if you’re thinking about getting into the industry, do your homework.

“Pick a good school, take the maximum amount of training and go for ridealongs with people in the industry,” he advised. “Reach out to the carriers, see if they’ll give you a tour of their facility. Get real-life information from veteran drivers and ask lots of questions. Because at the end of the day, who’s friendlier than the trucking industry?”

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6 Comments » for Panelists weigh in on consequences of MELT
  1. George Smagala says:

    Geoff Topping has is right: ‘Take the MAXIMUM amount of training’ from a recognized and MTO-approved school that employs QUALIFIED & COMPETENT instructors, teaching the full 103.5 hour MELT program. Unfortunately, those schools AND instructors are in short supply.

  2. ANDY ROBERTS says:

    I’ve said before and will say it again, simply requiring a certain number of hours of training (the melt program driving hours are too short in my opinion anyway) won’t guarantee you a better driver. I’ve spoken to other carriers who say the same thing quality of drivers has not improved with MELT. There needs to be a commitment on the part of instructors to demand higher standards from their students and on the part of the program to have more measurable skill assessments included in the course. A great first step but now it’s time to improve on it!

  3. Brian says:

    The only concern I have with New Drivers is that most Insurance Companies want 3 years verifiable experience. How does Melt help with that ? . Some companies do not have fleet insurance and will not consider welcoming this program or will they?

  4. Gary Fewings says:

    This is just another bandaid on a decades old problem. In Canada we federally regulate, and licence airline pilots, the railway industry, commercial shipping, and parts of the road transport industry. Yet the federal government steps away from the most complex piece of the trucking industry, the training, qualifications, and licensing of the drivers.
    Until there is a desire by the governments (federal, and provincial) to make this industry safer there will never be any substantive change.
    In this industry we identify the people driving, as professionals, and yet there is no nationally recognized standard by which their knowledge and skill is measured. The only measure of a drivers knowledge is a basic written test, and a subjective practical exam, which in many jurisdictions is administered by the driving school that provided the training.
    If there was a real desire to make our roads safer the levels of government would implement a “Canadian Professional Drivers Licence”. This could only happen if the job of Professional Driver was recognized as a trade, with “Red Seal” certification.
    Consultation is only value added when those implementing change listen to the feedback.

  5. Bill Purves says:

    The fleet carriers might think MELT is a good thing but it will be extremely time consuming and expensive for single truck owner operators to start up. Once again small business is getting the shaft.

  6. Stephen Webster says:

    The small trucking companies are s disadvantage in Ontario to those companies in Mb.
    Or B.C. We need public truck and car insurance in Ontario. That will insure all truck drivers that take the 200 hours course and drive with an experienced truck for 500 more hours. Farmers who need to move grain and livestock at peak season are having troubles getting their products moved. I had a wind storm hit my house almost 6 years ago and it was condemned and the insurance company is delayed for at least another year before I can take them to sue at jury trial. I know of people who were hit while driving truck and the insurance company in 4 years for Ryder never paid for the damages or the injury. I have seen them in the homeless shelter system myself. This at a large cost to the taxpayers. This needs to change before Ontario brings in offshore truck drivers. 2268899299

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