The Alberta government plans to reduce the entry fees — and the time required — for some drivers wanting to level up to become Class 1 truckers.
Provincial Transportation Minister Ric McIver on Nov. 26 announced a new “Experience and Equivalency” program that’s expected to reduce the time required for Class 3 drivers to upgrade to Class 1 — plus a “Driving Back to Work” grant program, to make the training “more affordable.”
The grant program is budgeted for $3 million, to cover up to 90 per cent of the cost of the province’s Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program. The grants are expected to allow up to 300 unemployed Albertans to earn a Class 1 commercial trucker licence.
The equivalency program, meanwhile, is expected to give Class 3 drivers with at least two years’ experience the opportunity to take a 40-hour Class 1 training upgrade, instead of the entire 113-hour MELT designed for novice drivers.
Class 3 drivers in Alberta are licensed to handle larger commercial vehicles such as buses, dump trucks, large tow trucks, ambulances and three-axle vehicles without air brakes.
Several Alberta farm groups hailed the province’s announcement, in the wake of recent calls to make the MELT program more affordable and reduce backlogs in training and testing.
Alberta Sugar Beet Growers president Gary Tokariuk, in a separate release Nov. 27, said his organization supports highway safety, has “always believed in the MELT program and never wanted an exemption,” but the costs of the program — and providing recognition for industry experience — needed to be addressed.
The measures McIver announced Nov. 26 “find that balance by providing Class 3 drivers with the recognition of years of driving,” he said.
“We welcome the new experience equivalency Class 1 MELT program since it recognizes the strong history of driving experience that most farm workers, who are often family members, already have,” Alberta Wheat Commission chair Todd Hames said in a separate release Nov. 26.
“The need for Class 1 drivers licences on farms will continue to grow as farms expand, efficiencies improve and crop yields increase,” Alberta Canola chair John Guelly said in the same release.
“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.”
“Farmers, foresters, roughnecks and truckers made it clear that cost is the major barrier to hiring Albertans,” McIver said in a provincial release Nov. 26, which noted the current average cost of MELT training across Alberta is $8,900.
“Providing better paths to earn a Class 1 licence will help deal with a shortage of truckers, getting our goods to market safely.”
Alberta is expected to have a shortage of 3,600 commercial truck drivers by 2023, the province said.
Manitoba recently announced a similar grant program, worth up to $50,000 per employer, covering up to two-thirds of the cost of tuition per employee for training taking place between Nov. 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.
“This time-limited grant is a step in the right direction, and we encourage all farmers in Manitoba to take advantage of this program,” Keystone Agricultural Producers president Bill Campbell said in a release Nov. 24.
“Manitoba farmers are not using their Class 1 licenses to take on long-haul routes, they just need to be able to safely move grain and livestock to market.”
KAP said it would “continue to advocate for increased flexibility” with MELT in that province, suggesting, for example, that “during these uncertain times Manitoba farmers would benefit from an online platform for MELT course delivery.” — Glacier FarmMedia Network