Learning Curve: Truck driver = skilled trade

by Tracy Clayson
Tracy Clayson is managing partner, business development of Mississauga, Ontario-based In Transit Personnel.

A vocation as risk-sensitive as truck driving should be deemed a skilled trade, with a standardized and professionally developed training program to enhance the skill set of the Class AZ or Class 1 licenced driver in Canada.

The industry and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation now have a better handle on fixing the skill development and trade designation process of truck driving. Mandatory Entry Level Training now initiated for summer 2017 will begin the process of identifying the role of the truck driver as a skilled trade.

If the job title ‘truck driver’ is not part of the list of skilled trades, no funding programs can be offered for skills enhancement, foreign workers or grants for training. With all the efforts toward researching the extent of the truck driver shortage and statistics of attrition, demographics, aging workforce, lack of good wages and the like, more effort should be placed on raising the profile of the job.

The problem with the truck driver profile also stems from the cross-section of training schools, both good and bad, that work with new students to bring them up to speed to pass the Ministry of Transportation driver on-road test. Quality schools produce quality drivers and professional trucking companies train professional drivers.

But there are questionable operators, and that brings down the reputation of all in the industry. When the government agencies, trucking associations, trucking fleets and truck driver training schools finally connected, the serious knowledge and standards gap between what is taught and what is expected was made clear.

A program to better control driver education and the licencing process was developed to improve the quality and skill level of new entries to the trade. The mandate was adopted by the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) to apply a curriculum that is standardized and consistent across all of the accredited training institutions.

As with most skilled trades, continuous learning should be a mandatory component of truck driving, with evaluations to determine competency at regular intervals. Most trucking companies will cite cost as a major deterrent to embracing a driver development program, but when we consider the damages, performance failures and risks, companies need to recognize that investing in safety always pays off.

Driver safety meetings have always been necessary for both the company and drivers, but with hit-and-miss results in terms of improved performance. That doesn’t mean learning cannot take place, but perhaps the approach to facilitating learning is part of the problem.

You might think that the last thing a trucker wants to do is sit in a classroom to learn more about rules of the road, hours of service, vehicle inspection expectations and safe driving…and you’d be right! Back in the early 2000s most truck drivers were given annual or more frequent safety training in a classroom with coffee and donuts and a lot of grumbling. While the meetings might have been mandatory and drivers were paid to attend, there was not a lot of measurement of comprehension of the material being taught.

No one is saying truck drivers don’t want to learn how to be safe on the road. But what truck drivers don’t want is to have their valuable off-duty, non-driving time eaten up by classroom training that does not reflect the range of skill levels in the driver pool.

The good news is that online learning is available and now—even in the trucking industry—with mobile apps, anytime, anywhere. E-learning is now available that is designed for truck drivers and customized to meet the specific market demands that professionals in the trucking industry are aiming to meet; better Carrier Safety Rating, fewer violations, reduced Insurance premiums, better fleet operation and protection and ultimately safer drivers and less risk.

Where old-style in-class training might have covered most of the material, the need to target the section of drivers who were more apt to get traffic offences and cause grief for fleet owners was missed.

Trucking is a business that suffers a tremendous problem with rates and risks. Insurance providers and  the government transportation authority know the results of trucking firms that cut corners in safety, based on the collision and incident events related to fleet, driver and work environment.

Now with more access to information, social media gives us all access to carriers’ safety ratings and disaster events with fleets. With so many vehicles on the road, we all have a heightened awareness of the risks of operating poor quality trucks and hiring poorly qualified truck drivers.

For companies that are serious about running a safe operation with fleets and drivers, safety training and driver screening must be first priority. When loss ratios improve, everyone wins: trucking companies, insurers, employees, clients and the public.