Farm groups say more Class 1 commercial drivers would help the agricultural sector compete with other sectors when it comes to hiring
Farm groups are praising an Alberta government initiative announced Nov. 26 that makes it less expensive to obtain a Class 1 commercial truck driver’s licence.
A $3 million grant program called Driving Back to Work will see the government cover up to 90 percent of the cost to obtain Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) for 300 unemployed Albertans.
On average in the province, MELT training costs $8,900 and can be as high as $10,000, making it cost prohibitive for many. The training requires 113 hours to complete, not including air brake certification.
A second program, the Experience and Equivalency Program, is designed for Class 3 licence holders who want to upgrade to Class 1. The program will reduce the time it takes for drivers to do that.
Drivers with a Class 3 and who have at least two years of experience can take a 40-hour training upgrade to get their Class 1, as opposed to the 113-hour course previously required.
The government estimates there will be a shortage of 3,600 commercial truck drivers by 2023.
Team Alberta, comprising the wheat, barley, canola and pulse grower groups in the province, said in a news release that it welcomed the plan “that will make it easier for agricultural producers, among others, with at least two years of Class 3 driving experience to earn a Class 1 commercial licence.
“The Experience Equivalency program recognizes farmers and farm workers’ previous driving experience, and their commitment to safety by allowing Class 3 drivers to take a reduced 40-hour MELT program.”
Several Alberta commodity groups have asked for changes to costs and requirements given the shortage of truckers, exacerbated by the high cost of training, limited training spaces and difficulties getting test appointments.
“The need for Class 1 drivers licences on farms will continue to grow as farms expand, efficiencies improve and crop yields increase,” said Alberta Canola chair John Guelly.
“For farm businesses that operate on tight margins, these programs are a welcome relief to hire skilled employees and enable them to continue working on farms, while upgrading licences on farms to Class 1.”
David Bishop of Alberta Barley noted more Class 1 commercial drivers would help the agriculture sector compete with other sectors in hiring.
Alberta Sugar Beet Growers, which also relies heavily on trucking, said it welcomed a program that makes training more accessible to some while recognizing the previous driving experience of others.
Alberta transportation minister Rick McIver said the department got the message from farmers, foresters, roughnecks and truckers that cost was a major barrier.
MELT training is required for new Class 1 (tractor-trailer) drivers and for Class 2 (bus) drivers in Alberta. It has a mandatory curriculum with specific hours allocated to in-class, in-yard and in-vehicle training.
Class 1 takes 113 hours, Class 2 takes 50 hours and Class 2-S, for school bus drivers, takes 53.5 hours to complete.
Albertans interested in obtaining the grant must qualify for unemployment insurance and apply on-line. Those who seek the equivalency program must apply to Alberta Transportation and prove they have the needed experience to proceed.