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Okanagan truckers welcome mandatory training, but say it could exacerbate labour shortage

Okanagan truckers are welcoming new mandatory entry-level training requirements for commercial vehicle operators, but say it could exacerbate B.C.’s trucking labour shortage.

Kaolin Mallette, trucking manager at Berry & Smith Trucking in Penticton, B.C., said it’s already a challenge to recruit and retain drivers.

“There are going to be some people who aren’t going to be able to afford those courses. It’s a challenge at the best of times recruiting and retaining new drivers so while we do appreciate that this is going to make more drivers on the road safer, it is also going to be a challenge for us to bring new people into the industry,” Mallette told Global News.

Read more:
Family of Okanagan crash victim pushes for highway safety

Effective Oct. 18, people applying for a B.C. Class 1 driver’s licence must have already completed an ICBC-approved mandatory entry-level training (MELT) course before taking a road test.

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The program requires 140 hours of training and includes 50 hours of highway practice, 37 hours of in-yard training, and hands-on air brake training.

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New mandatory training for B.C. commercial truck drivers

New mandatory training for B.C. commercial truck drivers – Apr 1, 2021

“Safety for everyone on our roads is always our top priority, and this new required driver training program will make our highways safer,” said Rob Fleming, minister of transportation and infrastructure.

“A robust MELT program is just one of the ways we are committed to improving highway safety for all British Columbians.”

Road safety advocates and family members of crash victims have advocated for years for B.C. to follow other Canadian provinces in implementing mandatory entry-level training for commercial truck drivers.

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Okanagan family of Humboldt Broncos victim advocates for truck training changes

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Lawrence and Ginny Hunter of Kaleden, B.C., lost their 18-year-old son, Logan, in the 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash, and turned their grief into action.

“British Columbia’s new MELT program is an important step toward improving overall commercial vehicle safety across Canada,” the Hunters said in a statement.

Click to play video: 'B.C. trucking tragedy leads to push for better training'

B.C. trucking tragedy leads to push for better training

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“Truck and bus drivers operate some of the heaviest vehicles on our roads through a variety of climates and on challenging routes. The risks are present every day for these workers, but programs like MELT help to mitigate these risks and prevent accidents.”

The B.C. Class 1 MELT course emphasizes safe operating practices for B.C.’s mountainous geography and diverse climate conditions, which Mallette said is much-needed.

“B.C. is one of the most challenging terrains in North America when it comes to transportation so having that specific mountain training is definitely an asset,” he said.

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However, prospective drivers are required to cover their own costs of tuition at designated driver training schools, which Mallette said will create a barrier to employment.

Read more:
B.C. government mandating new training for class 1 commercial drivers

“Anything the government can do to bolster their input and help people and get more truckers into seats is definitely going to help our industry in a huge way,” he said of available grants.

The BC Trucking Association acknowledged staffing shortage challenges facing the industry, but said it is critical to standardize and develop the basic skill sets for drivers operating commercial vehicles.

Click to play video: 'B.C. Trucking Association calls for mandatory truck driver training'

B.C. Trucking Association calls for mandatory truck driver training

B.C. Trucking Association calls for mandatory truck driver training – Mar 13, 2017

“The BCTA was pleased to contribute to the development of B.C.’s new Class 1 entry-level training program because ensuring new commercial drivers are trained to a higher, consistent standard will save lives,” said president and CEO Dave Earle.

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“Better trained operators will make better decisions and fewer mistakes, making for a stronger, more efficient trucking industry.”

In February 2020, the federal government introduced a Class 1 national entry-level training standard as part of the National Safety Code, but it is only a recommended curriculum framework that provinces and territories are encouraged to refer to when developing their own Class 1 MELT courses.

The provincial government said its MELT course exceeds the minimum national standard.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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