By Kenyon Stronski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
There is a forecasted shortage of 3,600 Class 1 commercial drivers in Canada.
This shortage initially came around when Alberta introduced the Mandatory Entry Level Training Program (MELT) for all Class 1 drivers.
The introduction of this standard capped the program at $10,000.
Before MELT, there was no standard in place for drivers. Due to this labour shortage, a $3 million grant was initiated by the previous Minister of Transportation to help unemployed Albertans looking for a job in commercial trucking. This is a grant that has now been renewed in 2021 for $5 million by the current Minister of Transportation, Rajan Sawhney.
“That’s a lot of money and something that’s out of reach for some people,” commented Sawhney. “One of the things that transportation did at that time under the previous minister was to introduce the grant for people who are unemployed and collecting employment insurance. The majority of the schooling and training would be provided by the government. It was extremely popular and over-subscribed by 100 people, so I introduced stage two this fall. They can apply for this grant and the majority of the cost will be taken care of by the government of Alberta.”
The problem of cost was also addressed by Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter.
“The problem, first of all, was when MELT requirements were brought in, having drivers properly trained has caused problems in rural Alberta, especially in that now it can be $10,000 to go and get a MELT Class 1 drivers license. More importantly, there’s a bottleneck and it’s tough to get in especially if you’re a long way away from the training facilities in the larger centres,” explained Hunter.
He also detailed a conversation he had recently around the issue.
“I had a farmer friend of mine say that he had hired up to three new labourers that had MELT Class 1 licenses and within the first week a company had come in, offered them a large signing fee and he lost all three employees and this is typical when you have a shortage in any industry. You’ll get this stuff happening. What Minister Sawhney has done as a transportation minister is recognize that we have this shortage and want to try and fix it,” stated Hunter.
Hunter also stated the new program will help a large portion of unemployed Albertans.
“This will help 500 unemployed Albertans have the opportunity to get their MELT Class 1 and it’s a fix that’s extremely important right now, especially with what’s going on all over the place. A lot of the people I talk to want to leave, and just don’t have the money to get a Class 1 and a lot of people don’t see the opportunity. That has never been the case with Alberta, you’ve always been able to find a job or start a business and with what’s happening right now; we really need to take care of these issues. In my area, we are firing on all cylinders and we really need to try and tackle this.”
Over both Phase 1 and 2 of the Driving Back to Work Program (DBTW), Sawhney has noted it will help around 800 individuals, but also commented she believes the labour shortage will be greater than 3,600.
“People have left the province and when MELT was implemented there was a transition period of time where people could challenge the existing exams without taking the course and a lot passed, but a lot left the province and that’s why I believe it’s understated. This grant will not fully address it, but it’s raising the profile of Class 1 drivers. It’s a great career and you can earn above a living wage, it’s good money and we want to attract people to it. We also have the Canada Jobs Grant and the Jobs Now Program that can also attract more people into trucking. It’s part of my job to make sure we have more people trained and people being attracted to labour so we can hopefully meet that demand in the future.”
As of 2020/21, of the 249 individuals that completed MELT Class 1 training, only eight have come from southern Alberta — 215 of the grantees responded to a survey where 44 per cent indicated they received employment within three months of completing the training. Sawhney also mentioned the first phase of the program was oversubscribed by 100 people.
“I want people to know that this grant is out there and I want them to not delay and apply right away because we have a lot of demand and interest. I don’t want eligible people to miss out. Alberta’s economic recovery does depend a great deal on bringing goods from one end of the country to another. We play a pivotal role in terms of having those economic corridors, moving supplies and the whole logistics industry is really well developed in Alberta, but the limiting factor is always labour. Even if everything is going well if you don’t have the people doing the work then you’re bottlenecked. Our recovery in this province does depend on people in the trucking industry and more people having a Class 1 and taking these great job opportunities.”
This was a statement that Hunter echoed.
“People who drive trucks are incredibly important in our society, in Alberta, in Canada. There’s nothing here that doesn’t have to be transported by truck so if we don’t have that component right it’s going to cause major problems for our economy and our ability to grow.”
Additionally, Hunter stated around 30 per cent of labourers in the ag industry in southern Alberta are made up of Low German Mennonites.
“We have to make sure, first of all, there’s not a language barrier, so they know about this program, and if need be have someone reach out to them and let them know this is available and to help them circumnavigate that. Our office is very interested in helping anybody in our area be able to navigate this and apply for this. My office can be contacted at (403) 223-0001 and we have some great staff in my office that can help them get that information. If there’s a language barrier, we will make sure there will be someone to help them through interpretation, or a cultural understanding we can help them figure that out as well.”
In closing, Sawhney wanted to add that commercial trucking shouldn’t be generalized by any kind of stereotypes.
“I want to dispel that myth because the technology has grown so greatly in terms of how trucks are put together and the future will be very interesting. We have autonomous trucks that are being researched and we have two trucks relatively soon that have a lot of technology — AI and machine learning that are autonomous so the industry is quite exciting. It’s not what people think it is and there’s a lot of cool things happening. It’s not necessarily super long hours and a lot of time away from home like people think because there really is a lot of opportunities. Those preconceived notions aren’t necessarily true.”
To apply for the DBTW program you can visit: www.alberta.ca/dbtw-class-1-funding-application.aspx.
For more information on the DBTW program, you can view the news release at: www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=800855E8201E2-EF56-80CA-AB251169F1370315.
The Class 1 MELT program is provided in English, however driving training schools are able to accommodate Canada’s official languages and others through translation to ensure language is not a barrier to safety on Alberta’s roads.