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Stop Passing the Buck on Training

“Pilots wanted: must have suit, nice hat, head for heights and good sense of direction."

Just imagine if that were the answer that airlines came up with to address the global pilot shortage; there would be a public outcry.

So why is the answer to the truck driver shortage in Canada to simply lower the training and testing standards so that anyone can get a licence? A recent Ontario ruling that allows tractor-trailer drivers to take their test in an automatic truck goes some way to show that the bar has been lowered. As does the fact that a driver’s test pre-trip is more like an en-route circle check than a full inspection.

Take a look at National Occupation Code 7411, Truck Driver. The list of required skills is a long one. Note that I said ‘skills’, which also pertain to a national code. Granted, they may not be rocket science skills, but they are valid skills nonetheless.

How many occupations demand the diversity of knowledge that trucking requires? Not many. Truckers need to be technology experts, administrators, customer service reps, and be able to safely drive an 80,000lb vehicle as part of their daily jobs.

When asked what five issues should be resolved to make driving better, Larry Hall, president of the North American Truckers Guild, made some great points in the article ‘Driving the Drivers’. The words training, uniform, education, testing, and competency were all used to suggest ways that we can make our profession better.

The Trucker’s Guild has been lobbying to raise training standards for some time now and thankfully, Hall is not alone in recognizing that something is lacking here. The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) has also recognized that training standards are not as good as they could be.

In May 2011, the CCMTA published a report titled Addressing Human Factors in the Motor Carrier Industry. This was part of a much larger study that aims to reduce death and injury on Canada’s roads by recognizing problems, and making suggestions as to how we can best deal with them. Although the report recognizes that there are many areas that need to be addressed, it states that “drivers are in fact trained only to succeed in testing and licensing processes.” Obviously, this will not produce safe drivers; they need to be trained for far more than just passing a ministry test.

Education is a wonderful thing but training takes time and costs money. The trouble is instead of working together, that "time and money" is being wasted by everybody trying to solve the issue on their own, in their own little way.

At least with the CCMTA recognizing that there is a problem, we may at last be about to set out on the right path, one that we all need to follow. For once, jumping on the bandwagon could well be a good thing.

So when it comes to deciding who is going to sort this mess out, isn’t it time we stopped passing the buck? Governments, enforcement agencies, trucking associations, training schools and trucking companies need to realize that they are ALL responsible for mending the cracks. Not alone, but together. The industry should stand up and state exactly what it wants and needs when it comes to training, then take that to the government to develop teaching and testing standards.

But if they don’t start soon, the cracks will become an abyss that no amount of time, effort and money will be able to repair.

Change will not happen overnight I know, but we need a NATIONAL standard for truck driver education, and the sooner the better. We may be a heavily regulated industry, but out of our 10 provinces and three territories, no two have the same training and testing rules and regulations. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

There has to be some kind of formal education program established to enable students to pass a uniform commercial driver licencing test. These uniform standards could only bring economic benefit in the long term, not to mention improved safety for all road users. I know that driver apprenticeships have been tried before, and I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about a collective effort from all parties to raise and streamline education and testing standards nationwide. We can’t sit back and let the Larry Hall’s of this country do all the work when it comes to getting these standards established. Perhaps the newly formed Trucking HR Canada could make this a priority for their inaugural year?

Everyone needs to play a part and it starts now. If you see a rookie struggling with something, don’t criticize, go help. If your company doesn’t offer training, ask why? Perhaps you could even write to your elected officials and tell them that we need a standardized approach to testing and licensing truck drivers. We may not be able to fix this problem in a day, but if we can change attitudes and behavior, one bureaucrat, one driver, and one company at a time, then eventually that crack will be repaired. Permanently.

The trucking industry would do well to take a good look at the aviation world. They were able to tempt new pilots into the profession, not by lowering standards, but by offering extra benefits and raising pay. They realized that the growth of their business, and ultimately the industry as a whole, was at risk if they didn’t act fast. A lack of qualified drivers will restrict the growth of our industry, too.

Trucking is, without a doubt, a skilled profession and should be recognized as such. We need quality not quantity, so for the long-term success of everyone involved in the industry, let’s pick the training bar up from the ground, and raise it high to where it should rightly be.

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