August 27th 2019
One Company’s Experience with the LTTAC Professional Log Truck Driver Training Program
Recently, we had the opportunity to pilot a newly developed Professional Log Truck Driver Training program developed by the log hauling sector safety committee of Worksafe, the Log Truck Technical Advisory Committee (LTTAC). Working in conjunction with THAG (Trucking and Harvesting Advisory Group),representing the province’s licensees, the Professional Log Truck Driver Training program has come about as the industry grapples with a shortage of qualified drivers, and an inability to properly train new entrants to the industry.
As a 4th generation log hauling and forestry business based in Kamloops, our Company, Munden Ventures, has always tried to support industry initiatives, as well as innovate and give back, when we can, to an industry which has been good to our family. Through involvement that I’ve had with the BC Trucking Association (BCTA) and the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA),I know first-hand that the driver shortage being faced in Canada has developed even earlier in over-the-road trucking prevalent in the membership of these associations. Unfortunately, it is company to a log hauling company near you…if it hasn’t already.
Being asked to assist in the late stages of development of this driver training program seemed like a natural for me, and then to be presented with the opportunity to offer training and mentorship to a young person looking to become a log hauler using the program, was a no-brainer. This article will chronicle our experiences with the newly minted, Professional Log Truck Driver Training Program.
Work began on the development of this program more than 2 years ago by a group of veteran industry professionals. Coming late to the party, I was struck by the passion that this small group had in the countless volunteer hours and work they had done in building something they were extremely proud of, and hoped the industry would embrace. One of my main take-aways from early involvement with this group was their priority of ensuring the training standards, as they had written them, would be maintained, sustainable and measurable regardless of who delivered them. Their vision to create materials and resources that can be used by educational institution/industry partnerships, or directly by industry on its own makes the program even more exciting.
Like many log hauling companies in the industry, we like to think we have pretty high standards for landing a job with us. Typically, we require a minimum 3 years log hauling experience, a clean “N” driver’s abstract, good references and a history of loyalty to the previous companies that applicants have worked for. Given that we have been hauling logs in the BC Interior since 1967, we are relatively well-known. Couple that with a low turnover rate, we are fortunate in not normally having positions open for long when they do come up. That said, virtually all of our hiring simply sees a veteran log hauler coming to us by leaving another log hauler – we certainly aren’t adding to the driver pool, and, in most cases, only passing the issue on to another business in the industry. It's no secret that industry was short an estimated 5,000 professional drivers in BC in 2018. Time for things to change.
Getting involved in the final stages of the LTTAC program happened to coincide with one of our owner operator’s sons, Michael, wanting desperately to land a job hauling logs – just like his Dad. Fortunately, he already had his class 1 license and had been driving vacuum truck, sporadically. In the past, we would not have even considered hiring a young man like Michael. After all, we are a log hauling business – too busy doing what we do to even consider figuring out how to properly train a young person…let alone having the financial or staff resources to entertain such a thing.
Having the LTTAC program available gave us the confidence (and the support and resources) we needed to take a chance on Michael. Trish Kohorst, the LTTAC program coordinator, quickly arranged a trip to Kamloops to meet and interview Michael, and his Dad, Scott (who would become Michael’s mentor),and make sure they were suitable for the program. Not to mention to make sure we all understood what we were committing too.
During that meeting, Trish explained the basis of the program being competency-based. This is not a pass or fail situation, but a measurement of meeting or not yet meeting the required outcomes of the program. The program required that we spend time with Michael covering off all of the fundamentals of log hauling – everything from safe work procedures, fit for work, hours of service, truck systems, configurations, and shop safety – before ever entering the cab of a truck.
One of the really valuable things that the program encouraged us to undertake was having Michael spend time in our shop with one our red seal mechanics. Having unrestricted time going thoroughly through a truck with a knowledgeable person, is often not made available to a driver during the “throw them the keys and get them out there” style of training our industry is doing too much of. Although Michael had spent time around and driving trucks previously, he will tell you that he learned more in those few hours about the truck and truck systems, than he had in all the time he previously spent in the trucking industry.
Once we had covered off all of the “academic” pieces of the log hauling industry, we repeated it over the course of the training, including what the LTTAC program calls the Competency Conversation. This piece is literally a “conversation” that can be led either by the driver mentor, or by someone else helping with the training. It is designed to have the trainee answer questions about the industry that have been covered during the academic learning pieces of the training. As with all parts of the training, reaching “competency” is the ability to demonstrate the knowledge and skills required by the industry multiple times in a variety of contexts. In this case, a trainee would be expected to successfully answer all questions in the competency conversation 5 times over the course of the training.
Having industry mentors willing and able to give their time and pass on their knowledge to the next generation of professional log haulers is fundamental to the LTTAC professional driver training program. As it turns out, taking on the training of his son forced Scott to refamiliarize himself with a lot of things in the industry which he forgot he knew. It also caused him to identify areas where he had developed “short cuts” in doing his job…short cuts that I know most log haulers find over time and seem to get away with – until they don’t.
The training program does not dictate the particulars of how the training is accomplished, or at what pace. There is a significant reliance on the expertise of the driver mentor to assess the progress of the trainee, the conditions and all other circumstances (length of day, cycle times, pressure from other trucks, etc.) and tailor the training to ensure the success of the trainee, and, importantly, safety. Once again, the mandate is to conduct the training over a period of time and have the trainee demonstrate the outcomes multiple times in a variety of contexts.
As you would expect, Michael’s driving training started with simply being a passenger and observing. This gave him a great opportunity to watch his mentor handle various situations, and see how the safe work procedures learned in the academic stages of the program work in practice. Everything from radio protocol, signage and loading/unloading procedures. Eventually, riding led to empty driving, empty driving led to loaded driving, and, ultimately, complete handling of the day (with mentor oversight).
Both Michael and Scott were required to document their training and submit a regular report to our office, which we shared with the BCFSC. This reporting was intended to identify progress against competency elements, identify gaps to be worked on, and, ultimately, keep everyone focused on covering all of the required skills and knowledge in the program, and have Michael reach a level of “competent”.
Once Michael could demonstrate to Scott the ability to handle all of the various functions of the job a minimum of 5 times in a variety of contexts…Scott said he was ready. Okay, so your mentor says your ready…maybe he is just tired of sitting in the passenger seat, right?
And then, in my mind, the coolest thing about this program. Scott said he was ready, our shop said he was ready, and our operations staff who conducted the competency conversations and academic training said he was ready. Now the BC Forest Safety Council had to say he was ready. Coordinated through Trish, the BCFSC arranged for one of their independent driver assessors to travel to Kamloops for Michael’s final test – the independent assessment.
Thinking back to one of the main goals of the Professional Log Truck Driver program LTTAC development team, the independent assessor is mandated with ensuring the standards of the program are maintained and met. The independent assessor’s role is to spend a trip with the trainee and evaluate his/her competency amongst the skills and knowledge that a professional log truck driver needs to display to be considered “competent”. This starts with the competency conversation, includes the pre-trip inspection and then a complete “cycle”, whereby the trainee must demonstrate each element of the training to a high standard. Once again, there is no grade or pass or fail, there is simply “competent”, or “not yet competent” for each required element of the training.
Successful completion of this program means Michael has displayed competency in every area…by independent verification. I know Michael is proud, but I can also say that we are all proud of Michael proving his competency in this final assessment, and earning his endorsement as a ‘Professional Log Truck Driver”.
This training took approximately 2 months from the time we started mid-October through mid-December and saw Michael in the office, truck or shop everyday. The bulk of his training was in-cab. Now to say that we had our reservations about training a young person to become a professional driver would be fair. To think that we were willing to do that during one of the toughest times of the year, through almost every possible weather and road condition, with both on-highway and off-highway loads, on a tri-drive/quad short log unit, might even be considered a little crazy. Actually, I think it’s one of the best moves we made.
Sure, Scott could have trained Michael through the summer in dry and relatively safe conditions. We could have restricted him to our easiest runs, on the shortest days, with the least pressure. But we didn’t. Scott’s truck stayed on his normal haul, in his normal position, hauling his regular loads. Michael saw the true picture of hauling logs (except maybe 30-degree weather in dry conditions). He experienced a lot of the circumstances he will normally encounter in the industry – and he learned a ton, in an organized, intentional and safe way.
So how do I convince myself this was a success? I guess time will tell. In the meantime, the best measure is being confident enough to put Michael to work in this industry. When we started the training, we did not have a position available. As circumstances, and chance, would have it, an opportunity opened up just as Michael was completing his training.
Michael is now part of our regular professional driver team and is pulling his weight, safely. I can honestly say that I am very confident in Michael’s abilities and the training that he has received. It is far and away the most comprehensive training we have ever been a part of in developing a driver. Best of all, we have been able to transition a young, passionate person into the industry without simply passing along our driver shortage problem to another company. I think it’s a good first step.
I believe it’s possible that the endorsement as a “Professional Log Truck Driver” provided through this training program helps to lay the ground work for a higher regard for this occupation, sort of “red seal-like”. I think it’s entirely possible that licensees could begin recognizing and even requiring this designation amongst their log hauling contractor or employee group. After all, eliminating log hauling incidents and accidents remains one of the licensee’s highest priorities. This, in turn, will make it important for companies, like mine, to attract drivers who either already have, or who are prepared to spend the time to get this important endorsement. And…if you’re a professional driver, aside from making you safer, makes you even more rare, and valuable.
Training is serious business, it takes time, resources and it takes effort from many people. And it is incredibly rewarding. Next time you see Michael or Scott on the road, just ask them.
For me, I am committed to doing my small part in elevating the occupation of professional log truck driver to what it once was, and should still be. To have the highly skilled and hard-working people driving log trucks respected for the challenging job they do, and to ensure there is a means for attracting and training the next generation of professional log hauler safely into the industry. As they say, “it takes a village” and I would highly encourage other log hauling businesses in the province to consider training a young person using the LTTAC Professional Log Truck Driver Training program. I believe it will be as rewarding for you as it is for them.