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EDITORIAL: MELT is An Idea Whose Time Has Come

By: David Bradley

In early October, Ontario’s new transportation minister, Stephen Del Duca, announced his commitment to introduce mandatory entry level training for truck drivers seeking to become licensed in his province. This makes Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada, indeed in all of North America, to make such a commitment. Let’s hope other governments join in this important initiative.

The suggestion that truck drivers should be required to receive entry level training before they take their provincial Class 1 or Class A license test, has been kicked around for years but never seemed to gain traction — either with industry or with government. The most likely explanation for that could be that while the roots of the current driver shortage go back decades, the impact of changing demographics, changing expectations in terms of job satisfaction, etc., have really only emerged, or converged, in more recent times. In days gone by there always seemed to be just enough kids coming off the farm, or transferees from the construction industry, who were used to working around and with heavy machinery (and had likely been driving from an early age) to satiate the demand for drivers. The transition to driving a truck for a living was relatively easy for them and challenging the license test without, or with a minimum level of training, and then taking the wheel, was common and acceptable.

It’s a different world today. People are different. The highways are more crowded and congested. The level of oversight on the industry is greater. The demands from shippers are unceasing.

The CTA Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) on the Truck Driver Shortage, which comprises trucking company CEOs and senior executives from across the country, made mandatory entry level training one its central — if not the central — recommendations in its seminal report back in 2011. The Conference Board of Canada raised the issue in its examination of the reasons behind the driver shortage and the economic implications for Canada.

The BRTF’s thinking behind mandatory entry level training reflected a number of concerns — all routed in the fact that the truck driving occupation is not deemed to be a skilled occupation — not by shippers, or government, educators, job counsellors or many of the people seeking to come into the job. It’s a sad thing to say, but the occupation, in too many people’s minds, has become the job of last resort. Can’t do anything else? Become a truck driver. You don’t need training or at least if you do need some instruction you can go to the local “license mill” and for a few hundred bucks they’ll teach you to just enough to pass the license test, which isn’t much of a feat.

Against that backdrop it’s no wonder the BRTF identified carrier dissatisfaction over the quality and employability of many of the people coming through their doors newly printed license in hand a key concern.

It may initially seem counter-intuitive to some that the industry would be seeking to raise the bar at the same time that it’s facing a chronic driver shortage. But the fact is the BRTF concluded that until such a time as the driving occupation is deemed to be a skilled occupation, the industry will continue to miss out on all those people — and their parents and guidance counsellors — who for the first time are suggesting “the trades” as a ticket to a bona fide career. (There’s also money available for training in the trades).

It’s a bizarre situation that in most provinces in order to get a forklift license you need to take some level of mandatory training before you can get your license, but to drive a truck you don’t. It is equally bizarre that an occupation like hairdresser (and no offence to hairdressers intended) or any other number of jobs that don’t require the same level of responsibility and skill as a truck driver, are considered trades. But the truck driver occupation is not. And, we talk about a lack of respect for drivers. To me, this is a direct reflection of that lack of respect.

However, there’s really no point in dwelling on why it took up until now for things to start changing. We can’t change the past, but it’s up to us — the industry and the people with the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the people who drive our vehicles are safe and productive — to fix the problem.

Yes, we need partners too. The reputable training schools and the truck insurers all have a vested interest and are working with us. Governments regulate the training schools, licensing and safety on the highways. They need to join us and we welcome them. The Ontario government has given its commitment. The federal department of employment and social development is currently providing funding, along with CTA, to a project being administered by Trucking HR Canada which is laying the foundation for mandatory entry level training through a truly industry developed National Occupational Standard.

It’s somewhat unfortunate that the timing of the Ontario minister’s announcement coincided with an investigation into the issues cited above from a major Toronto daily. The fact is OTA and the government had been discussing such an announcement and the minister had raised the issue with his provincial counterparts at the last meeting of the Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety, well before the newspaper published its stories.

There’s an old saying that “victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan.” We may have begun to move the yardsticks, but we can’t claim victory yet. There’s a lot of work to do in Ontario and across the country. There are many challenging questions to be answered and consensus in our fragmented business is always difficult to achieve. But, the industry has a glorious opportunity. Let’s make it happen.

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