Training Is Everyone’s Business

The looming deadline for the implementation of Mandatory Entry-level Training (MELT) standards for Class A truck drivers has stimulated much discussion about the current state of training in the Province of Ontario. As a contributor to Over the Road magazine, I have given my opinions on many issues related to MELT and training and as a result, I have received many messages and emails from truck drivers and trainers not only from Ontario but also from other provinces. It’s obvious that driver training is top of mind for everyone in the trucking industry. Yet I am especially interested in the reactions of front line drivers and trainers. They are concerned about the quality and quantity of training that new drivers are getting. And they’re not too pleased with what they feel is happening.

At the moment, the lens is focused on how the government is going to improve safety on the roads by mandating minimum standards. This will affect many government bodies. The Ministry of Transportation will have to change and improve both the knowledge test and the road test. The Private Career Colleges Branch of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (formerly MTCU) will have to review its current minimum standards for truck driver training. Private career colleges will have to change their curriculum to meet the new standards. And carriers who participate in the Driver Certification Program and have signing authority will have to meet the standards. This plan is seen as the key to solving training issues in the trucking industry. But will it be the panacea and cure-all that ails training? Hardly.

There is no quick solution and I see a significant gap in this plan. It’s not realistic to think that legislated standards will solve training issues that currently exist in the industry. The intention of MELT is to prepare ENTRY-LEVEL drivers to enter the industry. The disappointment will come when the trucking companies, who will expect these graduates to leave the schools with all the skills or knowledge to work in their specific operation, find the skills lacking. Once more, they will criticize the schools for not preparing them adequately. I wonder what will be the commitment of carriers in this new and improved plan. Is it solely the responsibility of the government and the schools to do everything? No.

Over the years, I have often heard companies lay the blame at the door of the schools for not getting a new driver ready enough to work for them. History has demonstrated that initial and ongoing training is frequently absent when newly licensed drivers are hired. Many have improved their approach but too many still expect these drivers to be functional immediately without added training. This is where the carriers need to step up to the plate. Long gone are the days where you can use the ‘here-are-the-key-and-don’t-screw-up’ training program to prepare drivers for work. I believe carriers’ expectations are sometimes not realistic when it comes to putting new drivers behind the wheel.

When we hire an administrative assistant to work in our school, we know that it will take almost six months of training, mentoring and job shadowing for this individual to be competent and confident to do the job effectively. Why do some carriers believe they can hand over the keys to a rig worth over $250,000 and expect the job to be done seamlessly? These new drivers will not know the specifics needed to safely haul lumber, heavy equipment, liquids or any other commodity. It’s the company’s responsibility to ensure the new worker can do the job safely.

And yes – new drivers will not have any experience. At one point in our lives, we were all there. We have to remember that none of us had experience after graduating from any program. Someone gave us a break so we could get started in our career. It’s now up to all of us to share in the education of these new drivers.
I know it’s a little disheartening to train drivers and have them quit and go to a competitor. I get it… we all want that Uber worker who can do every job flawlessly, contribute to the organization and positively affect the bottom line. But it’s not realistic to expect that a new driver will be able to meet this ideal. With time and lots of training and mentoring, our organizations will cultivate employees that will be part of the fabric of our business. But there’s an investment that must be made. When a new driver knocks on your door, take the time to assess his or her skill level. You can help someone build skills and knowledge but you can’t change a person’s personality. So it’s just as important to assess this person’s attitude, work ethic, willingness to learn and ability to do what it takes to become a part of your team.

We all agree that in an ideal world, a student of transportation should only leave the safety of a school when he or she is able to perform all aspects of the trades in a confident way. But it’s not how our industry works. The working model for good training should include everyone. The government sets minimum standards, the schools teach the foundation skills and knowledge and then industry continues with a solid orientation and continuous on-the-job training. That’s how training becomes everyone’s business.


Louise Philbin
Co-founder and Education Director
5th Wheel Training Institute
Haileybury, Ontario