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New learning pathway for Class 1 drivers: Hunter

Posted on May 23, 2024 by Ryan Dahlman

By Trevor Busch

The province is improving Class 1 licensing and training with a new, made-in-Alberta learning pathway for professional truck drivers.

Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) became a new pre-licensing requirement for Class 1 commercial drivers in Alberta on March 1, 2019. Since then, insurance claims have risen for Class 1 drivers and MELT has been identified by the trucking industry as one of the leading factors contributing to the ongoing commercial driver shortage, increasing time and costs for the driver recruitment process.

“Well, it’s to do it – in my opinion – properly,” said Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter, commenting on the reason for the change. “MELT, we (thought) this is what the United States is going to be doing, and so we have to do it. And it’s got to be across provinces, across the country. And we still haven’t seen MELT introduced in the United States.”

Industry input found broad support for the continuation of Class 1 pre-license training, but also included recommendations to improve safety. These recommendations included tiered or restricted Class 1 driver’s licences, more appropriate training for certain industries, increased in-cab training hours to avoid the need for retraining, and an expanded scope of training to include additional competencies for Class 1 driver licensing.

The improvements to Class 1 licensing and training are focused on ensuring road safety while developing driver competency throughout a driver’s career. The new made-in-Alberta learning pathway was developed through extensive consultation with a wide range of perspectives in the commercial driving industry and is designed to increase driver skills, improve safety, and create ongoing training for current and prospective Class 1 drivers.

“So I think this is the approach we’re going to take here is about doing it correct, which is making sure that there’s proper training, making sure that the people are safe on the road, but not destroying our ag sector, which is what was going on in the past,” continued Hunter. “It just goes to show that when you bring in policy, you have to think about all the ramifications, do the best you can to think about that. And I don’t think that when MELT was brought in they thought about all those things.” 

This apprenticeship-style model offers a learning pathway for Albertans to develop the skills to succeed and advance in their career as a professional driver, developing skills as a trainee and building on their skills and experience, with the goal of obtaining a Red Seal designation and the recognition as a professional trade. This also allows drivers to get on the job training in the actual vehicle they will be using each day throughout their career.

“So we want to make sure that farmers have the ability to get their product to market in a timely fashion. But also, I think what it does is brings back parity of esteem into the trucking industry where it’s going to be almost like an apprenticeship, and you can get your Red Seal classification. So for those who are saying I want to do that for the rest of my life, I want to do long haul, this kind of gives you that parity of esteem, and so they can do that training. And hopefully it will help them to land jobs, rather than the person that doesn’t have that.”

The new learning pathway also responds to the unique needs of Alberta farmers by exempting them and their immediate family from the requirement for pre-licence training and providing them a farm-restricted Class 1 driver’s licence. This new farm-restricted Class 1 driver’s licence will allow farmers and their immediate family members to operate Class 1 vehicles within Alberta only, and for authorized farm purposes only. Farmers who are eligible for the new farm restricted Class 1 driver’s licence must still complete a knowledge test, road test and vision screening, and submit a driver medical assessment to demonstrate they can safely drive Class 1 vehicles.

Hunter pointed out that much of the opposition to MELT came directly from the grassroots.

“When it first came out – actually almost every year that it’s been out – my office here, the writing has been constantly people saying we’ve got to do something about this, this is very, very difficult for us to to get our products off the fields.”

Transportation and Economic Corridors will optimize monitoring and oversight of commercial truck drivers, carriers, driving schools, driver instructors and driver examiners to enhance safety on Alberta’s roads. Neighbouring jurisdictions will also be notified of the changes, and drivers without proper Class 1 driver’s licences will be subject to the rules and regulations of those jurisdictions.

Budget 2024 invests $41 million over three years ($5 million in 2024-25 and $18 million in each of 2025-26 and 2026-27) in new funding to set up a commercial driver training grant that will support the implementation of a made-in-Alberta learning pathway.

• This new funding supplements the Driving Back to Work program announced in Budget 2022 to reduce barriers to commercial driver training. The remaining funding in this program is $20 million over the next two years ($10 million annually in 2024-25 and 2025-26).

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

• According to Statistics Canada, there are 4,260 commercial truck driver vacancies in Alberta (Quarter 3, 2023) which accounts for 20 per cent of the vacancies in Canada.

• The program will begin in March 2025.

• The farmer exemption will be implemented April 1.

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