By Tim Kalinowski on December 30, 2020.
Farmers are giving tentative approval to the provincial government’s new Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) truck drivers’ program, but still wish the province had gone further to help defray the costs associated with the training.
“It is way better than what we had,” says Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture. “We had made a couple of different recommendations on that; especially on the financial end. One of our points was sort of treating the cost of getting a (Class 1) drivers’ licence for a person as a student loan, and take it through that way instead of being paid in cash or up front.
“We just thought that would have been an advantage for a lot of producers that don’t know whether they are going to hire a guy, and they got to pay $10,000 for his licence, is he going to stay around? That was one of the concerns expressed by our members to us.”
The MELT program takes into account the farm grain transport driver’s experience when qualifying for a Class 1 operator’s licence. If they have two years or more years of experience handling large trucks that would count toward their licence. The province is also offering a modified 40-hour Class 3 certification under MELT to make it easier for farmers to obtain that licence.
Jacobson says compared to what was originally expected, which was very minimal and, in his mind unsafe, and what was later brought in under previous governments, which was too intensive, the MELT program achieves a sort of Goldilocks zone for grain transport operators.
“Before you would go in to do your Class 1, and you’d do the test,” he explains. “Driver training wasn’t mandatory if you could pass the test, but there was a lot of bending of the rules just to get people out the door. So there were people getting a Class 1 before that weren’t (road) qualified. Then the regulations became much stronger. You are walking a fine line between having not enough training and maybe too much training. The stringency part was to get the hours to get the training — that was really increased and that’s where the big cost came into it.”
Jacobson says the AFA intends to continue to lobby the provincial government to reconsider the financing side of things.
“You are still going to have the cost of new licences put onto producers if they want to hire and train a guy,” he says. “It isn’t really a bad idea to turn it into a student loan program, and they have the cost borne by the guy who is getting the licence over how many years. That would help a lot of producers for hiring and training somebody on their farm.”
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