By: G. Ray Gompf, CD
For the past forty plus years, this topic has been on the agenda of many in the trucking industry. Other more powerful lobby groups have gotten their way and thwarted any move towards truck driving being anything more than general labour with a qualification. That qualification being a provincially granted ability test that proves the truck driver has the capability to maneuver an articulated vehicle as required for the government test.
The problem is with a standardized test, at minimal levels, is it doesn’t prove ability to actually drive the truck safely in all conditions, in all terrains, and all commodities. This standardized test proves the truck driver is a steering wheel holder. And now with a preponderance of automatic transmissions, doesn’t prove the skill of selecting the proper gear and being able to upshift and downshift as required for smooth operation or even the understanding of power and torque. The standardized test is only standardized for the province of issue and completely inadequate for the needs of the industry. Frankly, it’s less than adequate for the safety needs of the issuing province.
After the Humboldt incident, all the provinces looked at that incident and rightly thought “it’s only a matter of time” and as governments are wont to do, knee jerked the Minimum Entry Level Training. MELT was a wonderful first baby step; but what has happened is for the most part, MELT is the beginning but also the end of formal training and believe me, MELT is minimal.
MELT did remove most of the fly by night trainers that were a bane on the industry but hasn’t improved to on the road knowledge and skill of truck drivers. Yes, there are truck driver training establishment that go above and beyond minimum and always have, but it’s still an industry driven by minimum.
Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council, which now is Trucking HR Canada, along with the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Transportation and General Workers which has currently become part of Unifor, commissioned the Earn Your Wheels study course from Friesen Kaye Consulting with the hopes that every truck driving school would adopt the Earn Your Wheels curriculum. The trouble was that when truck driving schools were charging $3,000 to get a truck driver qualified with a license, this program would have cost $15,000. Thus, a good program got shelved because of cost. Make no mistakes, the Earn Your Wheels program was and is a great tool for training truck driver but there are others, from the United States, that are as good, if not better.
But all that is past. It proves there was a concerted effort to get truck driver training to be comprehensive and ongoing career long learning. It also proves there was considerable effort to keep it buried.
So far, the powers that be who are thwarting truck driving being a red seal skilled trade are running out of excuses. About 10 or 15 years ago, when the incident/wreck statistics, in Ontario, became too much to explain, they changed the way those incidents and wrecks were reported. Instead of stats for the entire province, they broke them down by region and to further reduce the numbers, by police force. The fact is that the numbers of incidents and wrecks involving commercial vehicles has jumped from about 6,000 per year, to somewhere close to 35,000 although it’s difficult to get a handle on the exact numbers.
Now, speed limiters and Hours of Service are seen as the ways to improve road safety. However, we’ve also seen the following: mom and pop truck stop have closed; time to have a sit-down meal for a trucker has decreased; the need for necessary facilities has deteriorated. But what has increased is truck meal preparation.
All of the tweaks made in the name of safety haven’t proved to be so; consequently, those of us at the operational level of the industry, who’s voices have been silenced and our solutions considered radical, have all along been suggesting the rewrite to sane and sound principles. Now is the time for these sane and sound principles to not only be heard but be put into service.
Drivers need to get that minimum entry level training followed by employment at a level commensurate with their skill level, with appropriate pay that recognizes their skill level. As they learn testable and recognizable skills, they will upgrade their skill and their wages. Drivers should never graduate from minimum entry level training and be paid the same as a highly skilled driver with 35 years’ experience. Acquired testable skills must be rewarded monetarily and/or with perks.
A few years ago, the Ontario government along with the ministry of Colleges and Universities, the ministry of Transportation at the assistant to the minister, were presented with a paper outlining how a multi-level skill development program could work, be tested, be recorded, be recognized, from MELT through to the Master Trucker level. It was agreed at that meeting the government of Ontario would work toward such a plan; but a few days later, there was a cabinet shuffle, and since the politicians involved with the proposed program were either not re-elected or left politics, it seems like it’s a dead issue again.
But never forget the tenacity of those who have spent countless years trying to bring this issue to the forefront. In the last couple of years, the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada has put this issue on their agenda. Hopefully, because they are women and nobody can withstand the hint of discrimination or that women may be unfairly paid differently than men, the WTFC can put the spin on the issue to make it a reality.
The work has been done. The documents on how to make it happen are available. Now, all that needs to happen is the right combination of operational workers and organizational support get together, plan the next move and make it happen. It is not difficult to make the changes that will truly make the roads a safer place; the industry is divided, has an aversion to collectivism, and a deep-seated lack of trust in others. In short, we are our own worst enemy and the government and the lobbyists know it.
This has to be a united effort, with multiple organizational groups coming together with a united voice that simply cannot be silenced. You know our brothers and sisters to the south will be watching.