A year for change to mandatory entry-level training

A year for change to mandatory entry-level training
The question is, “How much?”
By Mike Millian, President of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada

2024 promises new and positive steps regarding mandatory entry-level training (MELT) in Canada. For starters, Newfoundland officially implemented its MELT program on January 3, 2024. The other Atlantic provinces – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island – will follow suit and implement their province-specific MELT programs in the coming months.

The parameters of their mandatory training programs will be in alignment with the National Safety Code 16: the minimum training standard that all provinces and territories developed in 2021. This standard consists of 103.5 hours of training (divided into 36.5 hours in-class, 17 hours in-yard, and 50 hours in-cab) before the road test.

The Atlantic provinces will give the green light for students to learn on and take the road test with either an automatic or manual transmission – with the disclaimer that a restriction will be placed on their Class A license if they pass the test while driving an automatic transmission. This rule applies to all jurisdictions across Canada that allow a road test to be completed in an auto shift.

Meanwhile, Québec has developed a 135-hour MELT program that’s currently being piloted in four schools. Once the pilot program is complete, the province plans to implement its MELT program this year.

Ontario’s MELT program was the first one to be implemented in 2017 – one year before the Humbolt Bronco crash (April 6, 2018) that brought truck driver training into full view. The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) and other provincial and federal associations were involved in the consultation of the MELT program, which began in 2015. This year, Ontario – under the regulation of the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) – announced plans to review the program and make some changes, which may include a mandatory certification program for driving instructors. More on that later.

Other province-specific MELT programs have either undergone or are in the process of being reviewed for similar reasons. Manitoba – under the regulation of Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) – recently made changes to its program to improve oversight; meanwhile, the Province of Alberta is currently reviewing its mandatory training program.

Why the sudden push for change? Unfortunately, there are a couple of key reasons why:

Over the years – and with great hope and promise – our industry has watched thousands of students enroll in mandatory entry-level truck driver training programs… and witnessed a progressive decrease in the quality of programs and their graduates.
For the record, there are many good schools out there that offer mandatory entry-level training programs and produce good-quality students; the problem is the oversight of schools – in particular, newer ones that have been approved to teach MELT – that haven’t been monitored or audited for quality assurance and consistency.

For example, Ontario has over 225 schools that are currently approved to teach MELT. To compare, in 2017, the province had less than 100. The significant bump in approved schools – matched with the fact that MCU has only eight inspectors who monitor, audit, review, and approve all truck training schools in addition to all other MCU-offered courses/programs throughout the province – creates oversight shortfalls. Meanwhile, in Manitoba, there are 32 approved schools to teach MELT; 500 driving schools across the province (overall) that include car driver training; and only two inspectors that monitor all of them. This natural lack of attention creates a domino effect from what’s being offered (the quality of training – and by whom – at what cost) to who’s graduating.

Within this oversight lies other issues, such as inconsistencies in the cost and quality of the MELT program. Unfortunately, there are schools out there that are taking advantage of their approved status by charging less money, driving more business, and offering less training, which buckles the system and creates challenges for schools and carriers that operate legitimately and provide the minimum training that is required. This creates a whole new issue where these schools are ‘poisoning the well’, working with negatively influenced students and carriers, and placing unsafe drivers on our roadways.

Another key component of mandatory entry-level training is the quality of instruction. Currently, truck training certification is not a mandatory requirement in all jurisdictions. This issue creates inconsistencies throughout a program we’re all trying to standardize. Over the years, the PMTC and other provincial and federal associations voiced the need for instructor certification to be mandated; our shared hope is that this component will be a part of the recent push to implement and adjust each province’s MELT programs.
With these challenges come opportunities for improvement and change:

With consideration of the oversights occurring across the nation, the opportunity to bring in a third-party auditor comes to mind. Each province’s MELT program is monitored by its provincial government or crown insurance corporation; if these authorities don’t have the time or resources, each province could approve third-party auditors that the schools would hire to visit the approved schools; review their mandatory training programs, facilities, equipment, files, etc.; and ensure they are providing the training that is required, on the equipment that is required, with properly qualified instructors.

The schools would pay for this auditing service (monitored by the regulator), which comes with the value add of peace of mind knowing that every single school is being audited regularly. Each program being offered and the cost to enroll will even out; meanwhile, the non-compliant schools will be shut down. A ‘win win’ for the industry and provincial jurisdictions.

Our industry needs to incorporate post-license training for graduates of the MELT program. These entry-level drivers need industry experience gained through mentorship, coaching, and advanced training via their new employer. While many quality carriers do this already, without it being required, many carriers do not provide the support a new driver needs.

The PMTC is a part of Trucking HR Canada’s National Occupational Standard Working Group, a national committee that’s been working on modernizing the national occupational standard for truck drivers. This includes the development of a post-license training/apprenticeship program that will provide carriers with training guides, specific to new entry-level drivers without industry experience. This program – and the research and work required to update and provide mentorship training guides – was funded by the federal government; will run voluntarily (to start); and will equip companies with the tools to prepare drivers (of all types) entering the field. This program is currently being piloted by select carriers and will be released to the public in 2024. Over time, the goal is to have this post-license training/apprenticeship program approved by each provincial government/jurisdiction and become an approved mandatory apprenticeship program model.

By the end of 2024, every province and territory – except Yukon (queued in for legislation in 2025) – should have its MELT program in place. Is mandatory entry-level training consistent throughout the country? No, but the reality is that the required number of hours (whether in the classroom, yard, or cab) is irrelevant with the level of oversight occurring, province-to-province.

As an industry, we must support one another and trump the bad with the good. Carriers across Canada have an incredible opportunity to recruit, hire, and shape new entry-level drivers to their workplace culture, operations, and deep-rooted practices on safety, health, and compliance – with the added help and support of Trucking HR Canada’s post-license training/apprenticeship program.

These steps (alone) will help drive the number of new hires, create consistency in our workforce, and lower our national driver shortage number (to name a few). Meanwhile, we at the PMTC will continue to work with each province’s jurisdiction to build on MELT and establish the standard that mandatory entry-level training promised all of us: one that equips our drivers and keeps our roads safe.

Together, let’s drive change and make a difference in our industry – this year and beyond.

Mike grew up on a beef farm in rural Southwestern Ontario in Huron County and began his career in the Trucking Industry in 1990 at the age of 18. Mike spent three years working for a local carrier Hauling Livestock and bulk agriculture products. At the age of 21 Mike went to work for a long Haul Refrigerated and general freight carrier and spent 5 years hauling freight in all 48 US Mainland States and 6 Canadian Provinces. The Carrier then opened a Certified Driver Training School in 1998 and Mike came off the road to become one of the Schools First Certified Driver Trainers. In 2000 Mike Transitioned into Safety and Compliance for the Fleet, while still working part time as a Trainer for the School. In 2002 Mike moved over to a Private Fleet and became the Safety, Compliance, Maintenance and Training manager for the Hensall District Co-operative’s Commercial Trucking Fleet. Mike spent the next 12.5 years with Hensall and oversaw the Fleets as it grew from 40 Trucks in 2002 to over 160 in 2015. In January of 2015 Mike moved into the Trucking Association business and was named the President of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, where he remains in his current role.