Province hopes improved trucker training eases 'unprecedented' driver shortages

A new learning program will replace the Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) which has been in place since 2019

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Alberta is making changes to Class 1 licence training in a bid to address driver shortages in the commercial trucking industry, while reducing barriers and enhancing safety on the roads.

A new learning pathway will replace the Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT), which has been in place since 2019.

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MELT has been identified by the trucking industry as a leading factor contributing to driver shortages, due to increased time and costs of the recruitment process. Insurance claims for Class 1 drivers have also risen since it was implemented, said the province.

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The commercial trucking industry has seen many changes over the past decade, and a “tumultuous” few years emerging from the pandemic, said Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen.

“With many commercial drivers retiring from the industry, it is critical for us to consider how we can ensure that truck driving is an attractive profession here in Alberta,” he said.

There are more than 149,000 licensed Class 1 drivers in Alberta, but only 31 per cent are employed as truck drivers.

Alberta Motor Transport Association president Robert Harper said it’s getting more difficult for trucking companies to keep their fleets on the road due to “unprecedented” driver shortages.

“There are roughly 4,000 vacancies across the province, and with retirements the number is growing by the day,” said Harper.

Robert Harper, president of the Alberta Motor Transportation Association
Robert Harper, president of the Alberta Motor Transportation Association, said the industry is facing “unprecedented” labour shortages. Gavin Young/Postmedia

He said the industry is tackling the shortage by offering competitive compensation and flexible work schedules, but there’s only so much it can do alone.

“This announcement is a major step forward for our industry.”

The new learning pathway will help train more drivers, while securing safety on provincial highways, Harper said.

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“Getting the right people — with the right training — behind the wheel is critical to the province’s commercial transportation and economy, because nearly 52 per cent of Alberta’s GDP moves on the back of a truck.”

The new apprenticeship-style model provides commercial drivers with a career path as a professional truck driver, Dreeshen said, noting it also provides an opportunity for potential new drivers to learn about the profession without having to pay a $10,000 fee.

“The new learning pathway will enable drivers to develop skills as a trainee, and build on those skills and experience, with the ultimate goal of a red seal designation,” he said.

MELT will continue as the pre-licensing requirement for Class 1 drivers until March 2025, when the new training will be rolled out.

The province has allocated $41 million in its 2024 budget to set up a commercial driver training grant that will support implementation of the new training.

“With solutions like this, we can move more, get more Albertans in the driver’s seat and keep Alberta rolling,” said Harper.

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Farm families exempt from formal pre-licence training

Meanwhile, a new “farm restricted” Class 1 licence will allow farmers and their family members to operate Class 1 vehicles within Alberta for authorized farm use only, said Dreeshen.

Farmers eligible for the restricted licence will still be required to complete a knowledge test, road test and vision screening, and submit a driver medical assessment to demonstrate they can safely drive Class 1 vehicles.

Jeff Frost, a third-generation grain farmer from Olds and Region 8 director for Alberta Canola Producers, said the exemption allows farmers to continue operations for food production, and ensure stable supply.

“It reflects the balance between public safety and the essential nature of agriculture in Alberta,” said Frost.

Trucking for agriculture experiences fluctuating demand due to the seasonal nature of seeding and harvest, which Frost said creates challenges in providing consistent, full-time employment.

“Our industry, like many others, faces significant labour shortages. There were significant backlogs to access training and testing facilities, which came at significant cost to family farms.”

The farmer exemption will be implemented April 1, according to the province.

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