By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun
Each day, thousands of commercial trucks crisscross the continent, transporting everything from automotive parts to groceries. Professional truck drivers can log millions of miles in a career that involves much more than operating a rig safely.
They must also know how to plan their trip and how to maintain logbooks and paperwork. They must understand the different types of loads they carry, including dangerous goods, and how border crossings apply to commercial trucking.
Keeping goods moving helps keep the economy moving, which keeps truck drivers -- both long and short haul -- in demand.
"The demand for truck drivers is high," says Gus Rahim, owner of the Canadian Centre for Decision Driving. "None of the robots have taken their jobs yet."
The demand is on the rise. "The number of trucks on the road has doubled over the past 10 years, but the number of people entering the career hasn't kept pace," Rahim says. "The average age of a truck driver is 55, so the demand will continue."
Choosing a driver training school that gives you the right combination of skills is key to launching a successful career. Schools registered under the Private Career Colleges Act prepare students to become professional commercial drivers. Others offer the training needed to obtain a commercial driver's licence, but the licence itself is not a job guarantee, the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) warns.
The cost of training can vary significantly between training schools, so it's important to carefully compare each. "If you don't pay for it in training, you will pay for it in tickets," Rahim says.
Trucking companies like SGT 2000 Inc. seek graduates of reputable schools. "We will take them right out of training school, provided they have 100 hours of driving experience," terminal manager Doug Bell says.
"Some schools are just licensing mills. They don't provide drivers with enough training to give them the skills they need."
Drivers can earn from $35,000 to $40,000 in their first year and up to $60,000 in three to five years, Bell reports. A candidate must have a good driving abstract and a clean criminal record.
Long haul drivers must be at least 21 years old and meet strict U.S. immigration policies so they can cross the border.
OTA encourages you to consider the following when choosing a training school:
Is the school registered and bonded in accordance with the Private Career Colleges Act?
Does the school provide a written curriculum complete with topics to be covered?
How much time is spent in a vehicle? How much of that time are you behind the wheel (as opposed to observing others learn)?
Does practical training incorporate more than one transmission gear pattern? (OTA recommends training on at least two shift patterns: 9 or 10 speed and 13.)
Is remedial assistance offered if you fail your licence on your first attempt? Is it covered in the up-front price?
The career is a demanding one that isn't suitable for everyone.
"A truck driver has to be adaptable," says Ted Wise, senior truck instructor with Humber College's Transportation Training Centre. He logged more than six million miles as a commercial truck driver, travelling across North and Central Americas.
"You're on your own a lot, so you need to enjoy that," Wise says.
"You must be able to endure long days. If you're working long hauls, you can be away from home for several weeks at a time. You cannot look at this job as 9 to 5, even if you're working short hauls," Wise says.
"You should have good people skills. You see not only the customer, but the general public. A truck driver is literally a billboard for their company."
More and more, the industry is attracting husband-and-wife teams. "They see the opportunity to be together and earn two paycheques," Wise says. "There's phenomenal money to be made if you're good at it and spend a lot of hours at it."
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