Today's Trucking
opinions Rolf Lockwood

Skilled Trade? — Until trucking gets that moniker, we’re in trouble

Posted: June 18, 2018 by Rolf Lockwood

The thing about proper training is that it makes the driving job legitimate, makes it seem like something worth doing. Our ability to attract new recruits will only increase if a strong training regime is in place.

That’s how I wrapped up last month’s column — “Training? What Training?” — which garnered a lot of response. And a lot of agreement, especially on that point about legitimacy. If the job required serious training, graduates would think better of themselves, as would the public and the suits who govern how we do what we do.

I make no apology, by the way, for covering this subject again. It’s that important.

The thing is, as long as truck driving is deemed to be an unskilled trade, as it is across the country, we’re in trouble. As I wrote last time out, I want standards, and tough ones. Until we get them the feds and the provinces will not elevate truck driving to ‘skilled trade’ status. And that’s mighty important in our effort to attract young people to the fold.

Who has any ambition to enter an ‘unskilled’ trade?

Truck driving is often called a job of last resort precisely because it’s so easy to get into it. We can’t allow that to continue. Make it tougher and the job will be seen to have value. That has to be joined by pay that realistically reflects the work done.

But again, who has any ambition to pay an ‘unskilled’ worker well?

Our so-called driver shortage will continue until change happens in these two areas. It’s that simple.

The feedback I got from my “What Training?” column echoes the response I had back in 2016 when I wrote something entitled “What’s Professional?”

One dispatcher, a former driver and driver trainer, said he wants to see a ‘trade certification’ for the driving job, constructed this way:

“After completion of a three-month training course,” he wrote, “the trucking company that sponsored the driver would put him in a working truck with a ‘professional’ driver for another six months. In my opinion this is what should happen across North America: trade certification. It would accomplish two things pretty well: attract younger people to the industry and raise the public’s perception of trucking. Red Seal mechanic, plumber, electrician, and yes truck driver.”

I take issue with that “professional” moniker, as I wrote in 2016, when it’s used routinely to describe truck drivers in general. Until truck driving requires some very rigorous training leading to that skilled trade certification, it’s just not a profession.

One correspondent noted that as a student driver in his native Netherlands, “It took more than a year to get all your licences and more or less $10,000. You started out on straight truck and then climbed up to bigger trucks. You had to grow into the business.

“Raise the bar and make it a skilled trade so they can raise the wages and we can get some real professionals on the road,” he urged.

There’s that word ‘professional’ again. Now, some drivers are very professional indeed but the numbers are dwindling. I couldn’t count the number of times truck drivers themselves have complained to me that they don’t like being out on the road in the midst of rookies and others who were never meant for the trucking life.

When I learned to drive truck back in 1980, this was already an issue. There were people entering the driving ranks who didn’t belong there, and it’s only gotten worse in the meantime. I’d guess that not too many of those unsuitable people from the ’80s are still driving. They probably lasted a matter of months. And if they lasted longer, they might not have become ‘professional’.

Time alone won’t create a ‘pro’.

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