This is the year to improve MELT

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This year promises new and positive opportunities regarding mandatory entry-level training (MELT) in Canada. For starters, Newfoundland officially implemented its MELT program on Jan. 3. The other Atlantic provinces will follow suit in the coming months.

The parameters of their training programs will align with 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 (36.5 hours in-class, 17 hours in-yard, and 50 hours in-cab) before the road test.

Student driver sign
(Photo: John G. Smith)

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 licence 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, Quebec has developed a 135-hour MELT program that’s currently being piloted by 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. The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) and other provincial and federal associations were involved in consultations for the MELT program, beginning in 2015.

This year, Ontario – under the regulation of the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) – will review the program and make changes, which may include a mandatory certification program for driving instructors.

Manitoba – under the regulation of Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) – recently made changes to its program to improve oversight and Alberta is reviewing its program. Why the sudden push for change?

Quality programs, drivers and oversight

Over the years our industry has watched thousands of students enroll in MELT programs and witnessed a progressive decrease in the quality of those programs and their graduates.

There are many good schools out there that offer MELT programs and produce good quality students; the problem is the oversight of schools – in particular newer ones that have been approved to teach MELT and that haven’t been monitored or audited for quality assurance and consistency.

For example, Ontario has more than 225 schools that are currently approved to teach MELT. In 2017, the province had fewer 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, in addition 500 driving schools across the province including those who train car drivers, and only two inspectors to monitor all of them.

Within this oversight lies other issues, such as inconsistencies in cost and quality of the MELT programs. 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, buckling the system and creating challenges for schools and carriers that operate legitimately and provide the minimum training that is required.

Instructor certification

Another key component to MELT is the quality of instruction. Currently, truck training certification is not a mandatory requirement in all jurisdictions. This creates inconsistencies throughout a program we’re trying to standardize.

Over the years, the PMTC and other provincial and federal associations voiced the need for instructor certification to be mandated. Our hope is that this component will be a part of the recent push to improve each province’s MELT programs. With these challenges come opportunities for improvement and change.

Third-party audits

With consideration to the oversight 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 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, which offers the peace of mind in knowing that every school is audited regularly. Non-compliant schools will be shut down.

Post-licence training

Our industry needs to incorporate post-licence training for MELT graduates. 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, others do not provide the support a new driver needs.

The PMTC is a part of Trucking HR Canada’s National Occupational Standard (NOS) group, a national committee that’s been working on modernizing the NOS for truck drivers.

This includes the development of a post-licence training/apprenticeship program that will provide carriers with training guides specific to entry-level drivers. This program – and the research and work required to update and provide mentorship training guides – was funded by the federal government, will be voluntary to start, and will equip companies with the tools to prepare drivers entering the field.

This program is currently being piloted by carriers and will be released this year. The goal is to have a post-licence training/apprenticeship program approved by each provincial government and become a mandatory apprenticeship program model.

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

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-licence training/apprenticeship program.

These steps will help drive the number of new hires, create consistency in our workforce, and relieve our national driver shortage.

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Mike Millian is president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada. He can be reached at [email protected].

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