There is currently no minimum level of training required to become a commercial driver in most of Canada. While that sounds absurd, the truth is that passing a road test and limited knowledge test is all you need to do to "hit the road" in units weighing up to 63,500 kg or more.
Even for those drivers who do go the route of training through a driving school, it is commonly agreed by trucking companies that, even after graduating an accredited class 1 driver training program, most students are not qualified to actually enter the workforce as a driver. Often times, driving schools train students to a standard to pass the provincial driving test standard (administered by ICBC in British Columbia) - very much a minimum standard. This is no criticism of the driving schools. Offering training to a higher standard simply would have such little demand that it would not make business sense for them to offer it.
The industry has been increasingly demanding the adoption of a MELT (Mandatory Entry Level Training) standard to increase the qualifications of a graduating student to actually be able to safely enter the industry. The federal government, after years of urging from the trucking industry, has finally announced the adoption of a federal MELT standard, to be implemented by 2020. Unfortunately, it took the Humboldt tragedy, 16 lives and a public outcry to finally move this forward. Provincial government adoption and implementation of MELT programs will be something to keep an eye on, as driver licensing is most often a provincial matter.
Ontario has had a MELT program in place for some time, requiring students to complete a program which includes a minimum 103.5 hours of in-class and in-cab instruction. Since Humboldt, other provinces have either made commitments to adopt a MELT program or begin development of a program. Unfortunately, British Columbia has been very slow to make a firm commitment to MELT, despite the leadership shown by other provinces and the common sense logic that says it is needed.
Raising training and entry standards may, on the surface, seem counter-intuitive. After all, if we are already facing a driver shortage, how can raising the requirements with a Mandatory Entry Level Training standard possibly help to solve a driver shortage issue? A MELT program does a number of things:
- It increases the standard to a point that graduates are potentially qualified to take on entry-level positions in the industry and contribute safely. Currently, drivers trained to the minimum standard subscribed by ICBC to attain their class 1 or 3 license are, for the most part, unemployable. This is both frustrating for the new worker (who expects to have ready access to employment based on the notion that drivers are in short supply), and not helpful to trucking companies who are desperately seeking qualified drivers to do the work. What's of great concern, are those few trucking companies who, out of desperation for drivers, lower their hiring standards and take these newly minted drivers and place them in a truck.
- Having a MELT standard will raise the bar for those fringe companies who tend to cut corners. As in any industry, trucking has it's short-sighted companies who fail to invest in driver training and have low hiring standards. These are often the same companies operating poorly maintained trucks, circumventing hours of service rules and, generally, running substandard businesses. It is these companies who, inevitably, compromise public safety, hurt the perception of the industry, and perpetuate the myth that drivers generally are unskilled.
- It levels the competitive playing field for trucking companies that are already making significant investments in operating a responsible business. These companies are investing in drivers with good training, pay and benefits, as well as providing good equipment and implementing technology like ELDs (read our blog on electronic logging devices here) and telematics to ensure their trucks and drivers are operating safely on the road. A MELT program will "raise the floor", so to speak, and bring trucking companies operating at the fringes closer to the standards employed by the well-run trucking companies in the industry, at least when it comes to employing trained, qualified and safe drivers.
- It improves safety. There is no question that when a truck is involved in an accident, the consequences can be devastating. Increasing the standards of becoming a professional driver will simply improve safety on the public roads.
- It elevates the status of professional drivers. Like any career, the requirement to meet high standards to achieve the qualifications needed to become a professional driver does a number of things:
- Increases the professional driver's image of himself, returning a sense of pride to the industry and occupation;
- Increases the respect from others for having achieved a designation which is not easy to get;
- Increases the value of the occupation. Like any supply-demand equation, limiting the availability of anything in demand, naturally increases it's price. In the short term, a MELT standard may actually reduce the availability of drivers. This means not only that the accredited drivers have the potential to earn more, but trucking companies have the opportunity to charge more to their customers as supply becomes more limited.
At the end of the day, it would seem intuitive that professional drivers should undergo comprehensive training considering the complexities of operating a piece of equipment like a modern tractor-trailer unit. Continued lobbying for nation-wide adoption of MELT standards is crucial to helping address the driver shortage crisis. In BC, we should expect nothing less of our provincial government for the good of the industry, the professional driver and the general public.
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