Province aims to lay off 600 new truckers with $30 million grant

“The pandemic has proven to everyone in Alberta how vital the commercial transportation industry is to meeting all of our needs,” said Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney.

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With a trucking shortage continuing to grow, the provincial government is increasing funding for its back-to-work grant program starting in the February budget.

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The three-year, $30 million program aims to help recruit 600 new commercial drivers, particularly Class 1 drivers who are taking the Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) program. Transport Minister Rajan Sawhney said the provincial shortage of truck drivers is expected to reach 3,600 by 2023 if left unchecked, and has already had significant effects on the supply chain.

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“The pandemic has proven to everyone in Alberta how vital the commercial transportation industry is to meeting all of our needs,” she said Thursday at a news conference in Edmonton.

The $10 million a year initiative will target three areas – $6 million will go towards the back-to-work grant program to retrain unemployed Albertans, $3 million will go towards increasing the number of unemployed women employment driving commercial trucks and $1 million will be for the development of online simulators and virtual reality.

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The province is also changing licensing requirements, giving Class 1 drivers the opportunity to train specifically for automatic transmission rigs.

The Back to Work Grant has helped 800 unemployed Albertans complete the MELT program at a cost of $8 million since its introduction in November 2020.

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Chris Nash, president of the Alberta Motor Transport Association, said the labor problem predates the pandemic, but has worsened in the past two years. The challenge for the industry isn’t just in recruiting – it’s that recruiting doesn’t follow those who leave the industry. He said that between 2019 and 2020, 4,600 drivers failed to renew their licenses, all under the age of 55.

“We have to put cigarette butts in the seats,” he said. “We need to find a way to make it a career path and a long-term solution to creating that career path – recognized degrees, more efficient ways to get the education – and that hits the basics of it all. .”

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Nash added that 51% of the province’s GDP is delivered by truck, and even the rail industry relies on trucks to move products.

Sue Ferris, office manager at Derek Brown’s Driving Academy in Calgary, welcomed the program, but noted that the previous version had issues with people taking training without actually entering the industry as a driver. commercial driver.

She said this funding, however, allows more people to enter the industry. Those who don’t qualify for funding or don’t have a job to cover the cost of training pay between $9,200 and $9,300 to get their license. MELT also takes 121.5 hours to complete.

“(Driving Back to Work) is a good program, it gets people in and getting training and getting into this industry so they can improve their lives and have a career,” Ferris said.

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Hamza Aleeridhy, Chief Instructor of the Derek Brown Trucking School, teaches a class in Calgary on Thursday, March 24, 2022.
Hamza Aleeridhy, Chief Instructor of the Derek Brown Trucking School, teaches a class in Calgary on Thursday, March 24, 2022. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Currently, only about 3% of truck drivers in Alberta are women, though Ferris said a growing number are enrolling in training. There are four in the current airbrake course – previously there might be one, at best.

The automatic transmission license is an opportunity for new drivers. Ferris estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of failures are related to the ability to shift properly.

The new license will limit those who qualified with a simple automatic license to drive automatic transmission trucks, and this will be listed as a restriction on their physical license.

Sawhney said automatic transmission trucks are becoming more and more trucks on the road.

Nash said switching to automatic transmission creates efficiency gains and a safer environment.

“Some of our larger member carriers have entire fleets of automatic transmissions,” Nash said. “The ability now to train on the equipment you will be using is essential. There may be people driving now who may never see a stick.

He added that the industry will continue to work with the province on more programs and grants to access other underrepresented demographic groups and those who are not currently unemployed.

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Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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