Triple Threat

Ticktock…Ticktock…Ticktock! The clock is ticking for anyone in Ontario who wants to get a Class AZ driver’s licence. The mandatory entry-level standards will be a reality by July 1, 2017. But I believe the clock is ticking even louder for all trucking companies. If they are not awake yet, they soon will be. The industry is at the threshold of Triple Threat… a driver shortage; an aging workforce and now mandatory standards for new drivers. I think it may be more of a time bomb than a clock ticking and it’s getting ready to explode.

A few weeks ago, I received an SOS call from a carrier who has long avoided all opportunities to interview and hire graduates from any truck driver training school. For the last 30 years their position has been strong and unyielding… they will only hire drivers with 3 years experience. Recent graduates need not even apply, they are not even considered and are told to go and get their experience somewhere else. Somewhere else? Where?

Who doesn’t want the perfect candidate? I would also like to hire only employees who have experience, who know exactly how to do each task perfectly, who get along with everyone and who can come up with good suggestions for improvements from time to time. The reality is far from that mirage. I am now beginning to see that the tables are slowly turning on the trucking industry. The day is coming where the inexperienced truck driver may soon be in the driver’s seat to pick and choose a job.

Those companies who have looked at their workforce honestly know that the average age of their drivers is between 55 to 60 years of age. Those who will successfully manoever through this crisis are those who have established quality training programs for new drivers. And these companies are prepared to recruit from many sources and have solid on-boarding programs.

Some carriers may believe that having a Driver Certification Program (DCP) will shield them from the shortage. Although a company can become a Signing Authoriy and issue Class A licenses, it can only train its own employees and must meet and comply with the Ministry of Transportation’s standards. Getting a program ready for approval from MTO and setting up a training program is not that easy. It takes time and costs money. And how many employees can a company hire and then pay for their training without knowing if they’ll stay? Not many can afford these upfront costs to solve a driver shortage.

As a 30 year veteran of the truck driver training industry, I have seen many companies start up and then close their internal “schools”. There are many reasons why it won’t work for a trucking company. I believe it boils down to a simple truth. Basically, trucking operations conflict with training activities. They do not blend well together and have a fundamental conflict
of interest.

One would think that it is an ideal arrangement to have a student start training in a company where they can actually learn on the job. Although it works to have a licensed driver work alongside an experienced coach, it requires a complete teaching system to start a driver from “scratch”. And the customers… how many would accept having students, who do not have a driver’s license, practice backing or delivering goods on their property?

Now remember that most people who are truck drivers want to be truck drivers. They don’t necessarily have the skills, the interest or the ability to teach. Yet for some reason, employers think that if a driver is a good truck driver, he/she should be a good instructor. And ‘this good truck driver’ is certainly not trained or ready to teach a person who has never been behind the wheel of a truck. Trust me… you will run out of interested trainers in a very short time. It is just not sustainable.

It would make more sense to groom some of the drivers who express interest and have the skills, to become coaches of newly licensed drivers. Some larger carriers have very good on-boarding programs. But let’s be honest. They have the resources to make the DCP happen. The smaller trucking companies cannot afford to operate a DCProgram. Even if curriculum and resources are made available at a reasonable price, it still remains the responsibility of the carrier to find, recruit and pay their own instructors and dedicate equipment to teach students according to the MTO standards.

So what’s the solution? It’s never one thing that will make the problem go away. Trucking companies who are serious about succession planning, must use several approaches that work for their organization.

There’s one thing that I know for sure… All carriers need to start NOW. Start by meeting truck training schools throughout the province. Visit their facilities, ask about their programs and observe their teaching. Interview their graduates and take them for a test drive. Start with one new driver and develop a system that prepares them for your operation. You will know quickly which schools are the most compatible with your organization. Find out about the DCProgram and decide if it’s right for you. Educate yourself about the new standards and educate your staff. Knowledge and focused actions are key.

The clock may be ticking but each carrier can make the decision to take a proactive approach to this new reality. The impact of these trends are coming and are here to stay. Don’t wait. Act now.


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