Like many of you, I was devastated when my two passions—hockey and trucking—collided tragically on April 7 outside of Tisdale, Sask.
I was also embarrassed and angry.
Embarrassed because the trucking industry I’ve defended at every dinner party for 35 years was somehow responsible for the senseless loss of 16 lives.
Angry that the same industry has the gall to classify truck driving as an unskilled job. There is nothing “unskilled” about hauling a load of peat moss on a two-lane highway in the middle of a prairie winter night.
In this country, hairdresser is considered more of a skilled profession than truck driver. Cutting hair is so difficult it’s classified as a “designated trade” and has a journeyperson certificate examination process in every province.
In fact, trimming sideburns is so friggin’ dangerous it requires more apprenticeship training hours than the voluntary driver programs in Ontario and Manitoba.
No wonder I feel safer getting my hair cut than driving on a Canadian highway.
A formal driver training process that’s consistently applied across the country is the only solution. It’s time to recognize driving a truck as a skilled trade in Canada. No different than plumbers, electricians, and hairdressers.
Together for Humboldt
We need to take ownership of this “unskilled labor” problem because the government (rightly) has zero interest in fixing it for us.
Personally, it drives me nuts when I hear trucking executives gripe and lay blame on elected officials. The industry associations that work on our behalf need to step up, and their members — us —need to check their bottom lines at the door and commit to the greater good of public safety.
It may sound nutty, but the wording of driver job postings is part of our problem.
In determining the National Occupation Classification (NOC) code the bureaucrats scan the job ads to see what employers are looking for in terms of skill. Carriers are sending a strong and consistent message: No experience necessary. We’ll train you and get you on the road.
We advertise for unskilled labor because we want to pay for unskilled labor. In my town, driver pay is barely above the poverty line — on par with burger flippers and grass cutters. The difference is those guys are home every night and get paid for the actual amount of time they spend on the job.
Look beyond costs
The thought of “journeymen” truck drivers sends shivers down the spines of owners. They’re convinced it will increase training costs and salaries. Maybe they won’t be able to renovate their winter home in Scottsdale this year.
Better-trained, more-experienced drivers do cost more. But I am confident these costs can be passed on to customers by carriers who understand the power of their new-found leverage.
No drivers equal no bottom line and no Scottsdale.
Tools do exist
The National Occupational Standard (NOS) provides the foundation for mandatory entry-level training (MELT) in Ontario, and entry-level training in Manitoba. This is a good start. If the industry starts requiring drivers to “prove” they have been training to the NOS, we can begin the process of getting the occupation recognized as “skilled”.
Carriers, at the end of the day, can make the decision to only hire drivers trained to the NOS, and insist on a formalized documentation of training to that effect. Not until we have some sort of certification or accreditation process in place will the occupation get the skill recognition it needs.
Lots of carriers get it. Too many don’t. But collectively this is our problem and it’s time we fix it. We owe it to the families whose dreams were destroyed in the intersection of highways 35 and 335. #HumboldtStrong
Mike McCarron is the president of Left Lane Associates, a firm that specializes in growth strategies, both organic and through mergers and acquisitions. A 33-year industry veteran, Mike founded MSM Transportation, which he sold in 2012. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-844-311-7335, or @AceMcC on Twitter.