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opinions Rolf Lockwood

What’s “professional”?

Posted: September 9, 2016 by Rolf Lockwood

I have trouble with the phrase ‘professional truck driver’. Some drivers are indeed professional, very much so, and I count many amongst my friends. If I were a fleet manager I’d trust them with any load going any place at any time.

They’re not the rule any longer, sad to say. Nor are they exactly the exception, but the numbers are dwindling. Some have retired, some have simply grown too weary of the very difficult driving job, and some have quit the industry in utter disgust. Long hours, mediocre pay, lack of respect from all and sundry, wildly excessive regulatory control… I don’t need to finish that list. 

They’ve been replaced all too often by new recruits with poor training and worse attitudes, folks who are most definitely not in it because they love trucking and want to do it well. I can’t call them professionals except in the thinnest sense that they do the job for money as opposed to trucking as a pastime. They haven’t and likely never will earn the ‘pro’ moniker.

So I resist the push in recent years to label the driving job a ‘profession’.

I’m reminded of a blind date I had a zillion years ago when I was 19 or so. I was greeted at the girl’s door by her mother and we waited for my date to come down a rather elegant staircase. Within about 30 seconds of my entering the place mom asked me what my father did for a living. Damn, one of those, I groaned inwardly.

He’s an engineer I said. Professional, she asked? I offered a snarky answer — well, yes, he earns money from it, I said — and that shut her up.

Just in time to prevent further unpleasantries my gobsmackingly gorgeous date appeared, and several years of girlfriend/boyfriend stuff began. Mom and I never did patch things up. All because of that word ‘professional’.

I guess that’s why I choose to be careful with the word even today.

As presently configured, the truck-driving job is not a profession in my eyes. It’s wholly respectable, and I wouldn’t begin to suggest otherwise, but until it requires some very specific training and a pretty rigorous recruitment regime, it’s just not a profession.

I want standards, and tough ones. Until we get them the feds and the provinces following in lock-step 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?

So I’m encouraged by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s plans for Mandatory Entry Level Training for all new class A licence holders. As of July 1, 2017 all would-be class A applicants must have taken an approved course prior to taking a road test. It’s about time.

The course will not be a $300 quickie as we often see now. It will be four to six weeks long for both in-class and on-the-road instruction, though the curriculum has not yet been designed. And only schools or organizations approved by the province will be able to deliver it.

“Carriers enrolled in MTO’s Driver Certification Program will be able to teach to the new Commercial Truck Driver Training Standard and test to the new competency-based road test before July 1, 2017 based on readiness and curriculum and road-test approvals by MTO,” says the Ontario Trucking Association.

All that is fine but I’m even more encouraged by the whisperings that other provinces may follow suit. That’s essential if we’re to raise the driving job to a higher standard. This absolutely has to be a national regime if we’re to use the word ‘professional’ here. 

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