Saskatchewan’s new minimum training requirements for Class 1a drivers has had the media and transportation industry buzzing.
As of March 15, 2019, drivers are required to complete a minimum 121.5 hours of training before taking their road test. This mandatory entry-level training (MELT) consists of at least 47 hours classroom instruction, 17.5 hours yard instruction, and 57 hours behind the wheel. During their training course, students must pass 11 separate modules before they are able to take the practical examination.
These are welcome changes to the province’s woefully inadequate past requirements, although some say they still leave a lot to be desired.
Northern Resource Trucking is one company that won’t hire a driver who just has their MELT requirements. The company demands much stricter training for its own employees, as it has done for over thirty years. Safety is the backbone of NRT’s relationship with northern communities. Its trucks share the road with northerners and the mining companies that it services. As such, NRT requires drivers to have a minimum of two years or 150,000 km of safe driving experience before they apply. A safe driving record means they must not have more than two driving infractions in one year, and no more than three in three years, including in their personal vehicles, and have no criminal record. This goes for drivers that NRT’s owner-operators put behind the wheel, too.
In 2006, when NRT celebrated its 20th anniversary, the company achieved another major milestone. NRT launched its own SGI-accredited driver training program in order to address the need they saw for access to adequate driver training in the north. While the NRT Training Centre provides basic driver training for a Class 5 endorsement, what truly sets it apart from other training programs in the province is its Class 1a certification. Drivers who graduate from NRT’s program have over 450 hours of experience in the classroom, yard, and behind the wheel! While students spend much of their time in the classroom, the focus of the training program is hands-on experience. Students practice on both loaded and empty 5-axel and 8-axel trailers, they get experience with load securement, roadside truck and trailer maintenance, and they drive on both paved and gravel roads. Where other training programs offer one, two, and three week courses, NRT’s training program is twelve weeks long! This depth and breadth of training is unique not only in Saskatchewan, but across Canada.
“We take about six students per group and do four sessions a year,” Randy Mihilewicz, Manager of NRT’s Training Division, says. This ensures students get a lot of one-on-one time with their instructors. Mihiliwicz started working for the company as a driver instructor when the school first opened before being promoted to Manager in 2008.
“We’ve had hundreds of successful students, and have a hire-rate of over 85% for graduates,” he boasts. “Frankly, that number could be a lot higher if drivers were willing to move farther from their home communities.”
Graduates have gone on to do local work for their bands or at the mines, delivery work in Prince Albert and Saskatoon, oil field work in Alberta, and even highway work across country or through the States into Mexico. What started as a way for NRT to train its own drivers has become a successful business attracting applicants from all over the country.
NRT’s focus on safety has paid off. In the transportation industry, the standard for comparison of company safety records are calculated as the number of incidents per 1,000,000 miles. The general target is to achieve less than 2 per million miles. NRT’s frequency last year was 0.55; often it is even lower.