Changes in Canadian Truck Driver Training

2020 highlighted the importance of the trucking industry in Canada. The enormous increase in e-commerce in recent years was boosted yet further by the strictures imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Supplies of goods and commodities went above and beyond deliveries to warehouses, depots, and shippers, straight to consumer homes in lockdown. While many industries and businesses were forced to close, the need for truckers surged alongside the necessity to implement new training programs to prepare them.

driver training

Driver Shortages in 2020

By 2020 the old way of life for truckers, with its freedoms but long and lonely hours, was disappearing. Health and safety issues merged with new technologies to create a demand for higher standards in the industry and more qualified recruits. Over 3,000 trucking jobs were advertised as available early in the year, with a predicted figure of 25,000 shortages by 2023.

These figures increased as the pandemic spread across the Canadian provinces and the industry sought to encourage foreign workers to help fill the shortfall. All truck drivers, new or experienced, native Canadian or immigrant employees, would need to meet the new training standards and skill levels.

Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) Program

As with their U.S. counterparts, Canada introduced comprehensive new training and proficiency standards in 2017 to be implemented in all provinces by 2020. MELT was designed to provide trainees with the competence to obtain a Class 1 commercial vehicle license. Allowing for some regional flexibility, all trainees would now have to undergo a combination of at least 100 hours of classroom and practical road training.

truck driver training

The Aims of MELT

The program is accented to improved safety on the road along with a greater emphasis on the welfare of drivers. With higher skills training, improved conditions and pay, the hope is to provide career opportunities that encourage fresh blood to the industry. At the same time, the problem of driver retention could also be alleviated although some veterans disliked the proposals and left the industry.

By early 2020 the Federal Canadian authorities found that some provinces had not been able to fully implement MELT and other innovative changes. The decision was taken to allow an extension until March 2021. The full effects of the pandemic are yet to be realized and may result in further delays.

Comprehensive Training

Training staff and schools are also now required to be standardized under the new regulations. Some training facilities have welcomed the changes and upgraded their systems to accommodate the requirements. However, the emergence of the Covid-19 virus has led to restrictions on classroom numbers and new health and safety measures. These rules have inhibited the drive to attract recruits at the same time as demand has increased for more truckers.

Virtual Training

virtual reality trucker training

Photo: VR Motion Corp.

One solution proffered for overcoming classroom limitations is distance learning. College students are already familiar with learning on their computers or smartphones so this is not a new concept. However, there is divided opinion about the benefits of virtual training over conventional direct learning in the truck and on the road.

Simulators have been used as an adjunct to traditional truck training in Canada for nearly 20 years. The suggestion though, that they should entirely replace practical methods has met with some skepticism in the industry.

Virtual Trucker Training Pros vs. Cons

Simulator Pros:

  • Repetitive road situation training to gauge driver reaction and practice better responses.
  • Uniformity of training standards – all trainees would be tested under the same conditions and experiences.
  • Speed up training and reduce ‘yard time’.
  • Improve safety, reduce crashes, and lower costs.

Simulator Cons:

  • Initial expense of equipment.
  • Skepticism and resistance of experienced drivers and trainers.
  • Widely held belief that simulators cannot reproduce the real feel of handling a truck.

Vehicles and Licenses

truck inspection

One of the challenges of training is how to handle the different types of trucks competently and safely. Vehicle classifications are based on size and weight and driving licenses relate to those categories. In addition, trainees must learn how to safely manage the differences, for example, between driving a bobcat, flatbed, semi-trailer, long-haul, or box truck.

In 2019, in the wake of recent fatal crashes, new training regulations were announced for drivers of semi-trailers and large vehicles. Learners must also be aware of the allowed weights on certain routes and the driver limitations of their license group.

Foreign Workers

Canada is ready to welcome up to a million visa applications from foreign workers over the next 2 years. Truck drivers should find no shortage of vacancies right across the country, but they must be trained and qualified to the new standards. To apply for work in the Canadian labor market, they must meet the National Occupation Classification (NOC) and skill level for the job. Secondary school education certificate, appropriate driving license, and additional safety permits are usually required.

Training Costs

canadian dollar bills

The many new or proposed changes within the trucking industry in recent years may have improved prospects for truckers but there is a downside. The costs of training or retraining are very high, reflecting the increases in expenditure in the whole industry. Improved training methods require new equipment or teaching facilities and higher costs of educating trainers in the regulations and technology.

Post pandemic conditions may send the economy into recession, putting financial pressures on truck manufacturers in addition to rising fuel prices for trucking companies. The costs, then, to trainees vary according to districts and licenses required but can range from over $5,000 (CAD) up to $10,000. This can result in a negative effect on incentives for recruiting new staff and retaining experienced drivers.

Conclusion

The demand for more truckers is likely to continue and for those who can benefit from the current training programs, there are good career opportunities. The industry will be looking to reduce costs by ‘going green’ and turning to electric-powered vehicles. The surge in e-commerce, boosted by the pandemic, is unlikely to ever fully return to previous levels so healthy growth prospects can be anticipated. Higher salaries, fewer hour-long stretches, and improvements in health, safety, and welfare may finally lead to fewer driver shortages.

Top 11 Road Safety Tips for Truckers this Winter

Trucking is hard as it is, but add winter conditions and it can turn downright dangerous very quickly. As every experienced trucker knows, navigating roads in the cold season requires special skills and expertise. You owe it to yourself to take every precaution in order to reach your destination safely and comfortably. Brush up on the basics before you head out this winter, and more importantly, remember to stay safe out there.

Truck on the road

Gear-Up for Every Scenario

Preparedness is the most important aspect of hitting the road during any season, but even more so during wintertime. Make sure you include a variety of items so that you have a solution at the ready. Blankets, food, and water will be essential if you are to remain stranded, but add a high-visibility jacket for outside. Speaking of visibility, pack a flashlight — and keep it charged! De-icer and ice scraper might already be on your list, but don’t forget a shovel and a bag of sand.

1. Inspect Your Truck

truck inspection

Now, you’re probably used to doing this on a regular basis anyway, but snowy weather calls for a different checklist. Check your tires, and evidently, use ones specifically designed for winter roads. Check the state of your battery and carry jump cables just in case it dies on you. Ensure that all the light systems are fully functional and that all the fluids in your car are topped-up.

2. Check the Weather

Check the weather forecast both before setting out and during the span of your journey. Technology is efficient at keeping you in the loop regarding conditions and possible road closures and alternatives. It might also be a good idea to keep in touch with other drivers on the road. Giving each other a heads-up is common practice in the trucking community and should be valued as such.

3. Be Careful When Leaving and Entering Your Vehicle

No matter when or why you need to leave your vehicle, caution should be exercised every time. Even if you are stationed in a designated parking spot, factor in the possibly reduced visibility. Wear your reflective gear, but working boots with extra gripping soles also reduce the risk of slipping and injury.

4. Watch Out for Tire Spray

A lesser-known sign of gauging the weather conditions is by keeping an eye on the tire spray. Watch the state of the water coming off the tires from the vehicle in front of you. If the spray is extra watery, the road is obviously wet, but if the debris is drier it means ice. The latter implies extra caution so as to avoid unpleasant surprises.

5. Drive Cautiously

truck on the road

Road conditions should impose the driving speed and failing to adapt is the cause of most accidents. Going slow serves two purposes — having more time to react if needed, and making up for poor traction. In addition to slowing down, give yourself more room than you would normally do in traffic.

The stopping distance of your vehicle is dramatically increased on icy roads, even up to 10 times. This means you should be putting a good, hefty distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. Incidentally, this is smart when dealing with bad (or inexperienced) drivers as well.

Lastly, try your best to keep your driving nice and smooth, meaning no sudden movements and hard breaks. If you do this you won’t be putting yourself or others in harm’s way.

6. Use Lights and Turn Signals

Letting your intentions known to other traffic participants is basic etiquette, however, it is more urgent in tough conditions. Your lights will keep you visible and give other drivers the chance to react to your presence and your movements. Keep the blinkers on for 4-5 clicks just to ensure they were registered by those around you. If for some reason you need to go slower than the general pace, don’t hesitate to use your hazard lights.

7. Pay Extra Attention to Road Hazards

There are some things you need to keep a look-out for while on the road. Specifically, cold weather produces some of the most dangerous driving conditions such as heavy fog that drastically reduces visibility. Black ice is another tricky one since it’s essentially invisible, so you need to look for clues like ice build-up.

8. Keep Your Fuel Tank Full

truck fuelling

Each trip comes with its own challenges, but it is considered good practice to keep your tank half-full whenever possible. Due to slow traffic, the trip might take longer than usual even if you’re accustomed to the route. You might also need to take longer, alternative routes depending on unforeseen road closures, so a full tank is practical.

9. Recognize Fatigue

Driving can be tiring as it is, but bad weather tends to take an even higher toll on drivers. Stopping when you feel the need to, is important, but knowing where to do it safely is even more so. Learn to recognize what your body is telling you and try to carefully drive to a suitable location. It is advisable not to pull your vehicle over on the shoulder if that is at all avoidable. The shoulder should be used only in case of an actual emergency as it poses the highest risk of impact.

10. Don’t be Reckless

In severe conditions, everybody is expected to be on their best behavior. The danger is palpable and you should not for any reason engage in reckless actions. There’s no need to worry about arriving at a specific time, nor should you choose to push on impracticable roads. Learn to admit the truck’s limitations, and yours. If you or another driver are experiencing issues do what you can, but learn to rely on professionals when needed.

Conclusion

Above all else, trust your training and instinct and use common sense. Don’t put yourself in dangerous situations and prioritize safety above all else on the road. This may mean slowing down or stopping and that’s okay, but trying to get there quicker might mean not making it. Adverse weather conditions and bad winter traffic are no joking matter and it is an actual matter of life-and-death. There is no job or cargo that is worth that risk and observing these tips will eventually get you home safely.

How the COVID Pandemic Impacts Canadian Truckers

In these times when fear of COVID-19 is high and jobs are being sorted into categories of essential or non-essential, it only makes sense that truckers would eventually find their jobs flung into the mix as well. Transporting serviceable goods from one side of the continent to the other, across borders, states, and provinces, truckers have found the complication of their livelihoods under more scrutiny and impact than ever.

Amazon delivery truck

Around the country, measures are being discussed and plans put into place to protect truckers and their families. Their equipment and service tools are also being protected from the virus ravaging its way across the country in record numbers.

Determined “Essential”

This one should come as no surprise since, without truckers, there would be no grocery stock. The Canadian Trucking Alliance or the CTA has begun to call on the governments to begin treating truckers like the essential workers they are. They are insisting that truckers be given special measures in order to keep performing their jobs across borders, despite the risk of infection.

It’s through this insistence and needs for their service that a distinction is being made between casual travelers and essential travelers. Truckers are also being taken into account for the first time requiring financial assistance and for how much work they actually do to make sure that grocery shelves and hospitals remain well-stocked during a time when such a simple task is made increasingly difficult.

The Risk of Self-Quarantine

Due to the need for quarantine to regulate the spread of infection, proper precautions need to be taken into account. So where do Canadian truck drivers fall into this precocious concoction?

The risk of self-quarantine for truck drivers is higher than it would be for most other essential personnel due to the nature of this particular job. Without their regular transport of necessary goods across the country, the economy, already in shambles, would effectively grind to a halt, threatening the safety of the citizens.

With this in mind, new measures have been sought. Truckers can’t just send themselves into quarantine without possibly jeopardizing their jobs and the country’s need for new goods. As a result, it forces an abrupt change in a system that wasn’t properly prepared for it.

The Facts Involved

The cold truth is that many truckers traveling across and leaving the country have either not been tested, or else haven’t tested positive for COVID-19. Truckers and the service they provide not only transport food and supplies, but also medical equipment which is in such dire necessity right now. Traveling back and forth across the country and between borders is only part of the massive undertaking they endure to make sure the shelves are well-stocked for emergencies.

Chris Nash, the president of the Alberta Motor Transport Association, agrees with this sentiment, saying such supplies are critical during these stressful times. Social distancing has also made it difficult for certain portions of jobs to be completed. Drivers often have to interact directly with warehouse employees to check the status of a shipment and get the trailer unloaded before the truck can get moving again. A driver may spend up to four or five hours at a dock waiting for the all-clear, and this raises the risk of infection.

What is Needed to Protect Canadian Truckers

Truck with sleeper cabin

The CTA is calling for truckers to be exempt from the fourteen-day quarantines. These quarantines have been placed on most other citizens, sans the essential workforce, such as police, healthcare workers and grocery store clerks. They also called for truckers to be given special leeway to enter and exit the country as required by their shipping routes and supplies they carry.

Hours-of-Service Relief

This was made possible by the U.S Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to ensure that all essential truckers who are busy moving emergency food and medical supplies to where they need to go are given as much financial and moral support as possible in lieu of the protective quarantine.

This is especially vital since the virus is expected to hit freight volumes far beyond the normal shipment capacity in the coming weeks. This will require increasingly longer hours spent on the road, as well as more shipping routes added on with an addition of even more products in need of transport.

Canceled Shows

Several different trucking trade shows have been canceled and postponed in the current wake of COVID-19, such as Newcom Media’s Truck World trade show and conference. It’s been moved to June 4th through the 6th with the tentative confidence that the virus will have begun to run its course by that time.

Several other shows, such as the Mid-America Trucking Show and the TruckTech Fleet Summit have also been shifted into June 5th instead of the planned dates in April and March. All across the board, safety trumps informative conferences with the idea to protect as many truckers from infection as possible.

Upcoming Strategies

Several companies have banded together to not only protect their hard-working employees but also their equipment lines together at once. This calls for pulling of new models from the floors of canceled and postponed shows for the time being. Launch dates of new models through such brands as Volvo and Mack in the interest of prioritizing the health and safety of all the workers.

Further and more intricate cleaning measures have been taken and put into effect at company facilities. And further bans to restricted areas by traveling personnel have also been put in place. Video conferences have also been set up in place of live attendance meetings.

Truck Stop Shutdowns

Normally a vital measure for truckers on the road, many of the truck stops found across the stretches of barren highway have also been shut down. This forces truckers to get creative with their normal morning routines. Drive-thrus remain open for them, however, making the process of traveling from Point A to Point B just a little bit easier.

Conclusion

If anything good can be gleaned from all of this, it’s that truckers, formerly nobodies in the world of employment and big business, are now being recognized. They are even celebrated as the integral source of all stock movement.

How are you affected by the pandemic? Are you an essential truck driver? Share with us what you’re seeing out there.