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.