WINNIPEG, Man. – Class 1 driver training schools in Western Canada are applauding the federal government’s implementation of a national training standard, but at the same time would like to see improvements.
Vanessa Morduhovich, director of Buffalo Driver Training out of Winnipeg, Man., says the national mandatory entry-level training (MELT) standard will ensure new drivers coming into the industry are on a level playing field, raising safety and compliance standards for truck drivers.
“We all know the demographics of truck drivers and the driver shortage that exists today. It is getting harder and harder to find and hire experienced drivers, and employers need to rely on new drivers and new and experienced drivers coming from overseas to help fill the gap,” she said. “With the national standard, you will know that each new hire will all have had a similar starting point no matter where they came from.”
When it comes to the influx of new Canadian residents looking to get into the trucking industry, Morduhovich said in the past she has seen surges flowing into provinces with the easiest programs to acquire a Class 1 license.
The first wave, she said, came into Toronto, but after realizing they would need to successfully complete a MELT program, the next wave came into Manitoba prior to the province regulating MELT.
“With the national standard being implemented, it will reduce the waves of people who are seeking the easiest entry point to gain immigration into Canada,” said Morduhovich. “And while they may enter the trucking industry, a majority of these people are seeking the fastest way to immigration and will likely not stay in the trucking industry for long.”
Morduhovich also believes the national standard will help reduce the type of hiring schemes that were seen in B.C. recently, where inexperienced immigrant drivers were hired and taken advantage of in an effort to save money, all while making roads less safe.
Another positive Morduhovich sees coming out of the national MELT standard is that all drivers will have a full understanding of what they are getting into as a truck driver.
“Even some of our MELT students were shocked at the intensity of the MELT program and the ‘job’ of being a truck driver,” she said. “They thought they would just be sitting and driving around a lot, however, the program is geared to being a safety program. The theoretical safety and compliance portions taught in the classroom are constantly applied during the practical training through thorough inspections of units, driving at safe speeds, knowing proper stopping distances, defensive driving, and driving without distractions.”
Despite all the positive impacts of a national MELT standard, it also creates some issues, similar to those created by provincial programs.
Earl Driedger, owner of Maximum Training in Saskatoon, Sask., said one concern is funding.
“We still do not have funding for anybody who is not currently employed,” Driedger said. “Therefore, we think this needs to move into the direction of an apprenticeship and the carriers can have an opportunity to build drivers specifically related to the commodities they haul.”
Driedger also believes both the national and provincial MELT programs need to incorporate more time behind the wheel and less sitting in the classroom.
Morduhovich, on the other hand, feels the opposite.
“I would like to see more time added to the classroom portion of the MELT course to allow more time to look at the elements important to long haul drivers who are interprovincial and cross border,” she said.
Morduhovich would also like to see the monitoring and management of all MELT programs to ensure consistency and quality control, as well as federal oversight to bring consistency in the licensing, training, and testing standards for commercial drivers across all provinces.
Like Driedger, Morduhovich would like to see additional funding options from either the provincial or federal government for those looking to take MELT.
The national training standard mandates 103.5 hours of training, not including an extra 8.5 hours for the air brake endorsement, which is also required to be a Class 1 driver, bringing it to 112 hours.
Two of the three western provinces that have MELT build the air brake endorsement into their training standards – Manitoba and Saskatchewan – while in Alberta, you must have your air brake endorsement to qualify for MELT. B.C. has yet to regulate a MELT program.
This essentially means all three western provincial MELT programs require 121.5 hours of training (113 in Alberta plus having completed the air brake endorsement).
“The way each province deals with air brake endorsements may affect the way MELT hours are perceived,” said Morduhovich. “However, there is no cause for alarm to say the national standard is less than what Manitoba has; it’s essentially the same, which provides for consistency across all the provinces.”
Driedger agrees, saying Saskatchewan needs to separate the air brake endorsement from MELT, which would put the province’s program on a level playing field with the rest of the country.