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?”