CAMBRIDGE, Ont. – On Wednesday Feb. 3, the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO)’s new Carrier Group hosted its first official meeting at Challenger Motor Freight in Cambridge, Ont.
The new Carrier Group’s mandate is to support the TTSAO in all efforts to improve education and recruitment and retention for entry-level and existing professional drivers. The TTSAO officially unveiled the group in early January.
The meeting, led by newly appointed chairperson of the Carrier Group Geoff Topping of Challenger, was designed for carriers and training schools of all sizes to talk about the important topics of discussion it wants to pursue in 2016.
Topping and representatives of the TTSAO kicked off the meeting by providing members with an update on the mandatory entry level training (MELT) program, of which the TTSAO is involved in shaping.
The TTSAO said it was invited to a number of meetings (more than 50 to date since MELT was introduced) with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and Ministry of Transportation with regards to MELT program, and unfortunately not much progress has been made.
“The original draft that was released is less than adequate,” said the TTSAO. “It’s unanimous that they are missing the boat with a number of things…and we have consensus across the industry…that they need to go back to the drawing board with this.”
The TTSAO added that it will continue to work diligently to get MELT where it needs to be in Ontario.
“We’ve only got one chance to get this right,” the TTSAO said.
Next, Topping opened up the floor to carriers and schools at the meeting to have a discussion on their own retention/recruiting problems and how carriers and schools could work together to combat them. Truck News attended the meeting and discovered the three major issues that carriers brought up in the open forum again and again.
The pros and cons of the Ontario’s driver Apprenticeship Program
Of the many carriers in the room for the meeting, just three were using Ontario’s Apprenticeship Program. The major benefit carriers found with the program is how it elevated the profession of truck driver. The Apprenticeship Program, though voluntary, has a strict set of requirements that drivers must achieve before joining. This fact, argued those carriers who use the program, does the trucking industry good as a whole because now the general public can see truck driving as a reputable profession, instead of falling into the stereotype that most people associate with drivers.
Caroline Blais of Kriska noted the only downfall of the apprenticeship program is the amount of paperwork and administration hurdles that come with it.
“In terms of supporting the program, absolutely we want to,” she said. “Anything that raises the bar in terms of training and improving he profession is important. But administratively, it’s a challenge…it’s not as easy as it used to be. All of the documents have to be sent by mail and we’ve had issues of documents getting lost and having to duplicate them and send them out again.”
This is especially hard for smaller carriers who don’t have the administrative staff to assist them with coordinating documents, many members also said.
The lack of driver mentors/coaches
Another major theme that was brought up was the lack of quality driver mentors in the industry.
A representative at Erb said that they are having trouble finding drivers who are willing to accept a newly hired employee in their cab for eight- to-12 weeks at a time for adequate training. Drivers enjoy the solitude on the road, he said, so taking someone else on the road with them isn’t appealing to them.
Other carriers chimed in saying they are also having a hard time finding mentors for their drivers, especially for their female drivers who aren’t comfortable and can’t be with a male mentor for weeks at a time. Carriers responded by saying they solved the female driver/mentor problem by training one of their own female drivers to be a mentor so they didn’t have to run into the problem again when they hired another female driver in the future.
Quality of drivers coming out of school
While most carriers argued that drivers coming out of TTSAO-approved schools have far exceeded their expectations, some argued that drivers they are giving a road test to that are fresh out of school are not worth hiring.
Some carriers said that drivers they get in the interview process have no manual transmission experience and only know how to drive automatic trucks. Others said drivers fresh out of school, who grew up with GPS in a passenger vehicle, have no idea how to read a map.
The psychology of the job should also be addressed at the training level, carriers said at the meeting. This means that drivers should be aware of the realities of the job before completing the program and interview for a driving position. Most don’t know that driving means you’re away from your family for weeks at a time, and many new hires end up leaving the job because they miss their children’s soccer game on the weekend, etc. Carriers said that there needs to be more awareness at the driver training school level to explain the profession in full to students.
The TTSAO said there will be more Carrier Group meetings like this in the future and is looking forward to its annual conference that takes place Feb. 23-24, 2016 at the Sandman Signature Mississauga Hotel.