On Thursday, the Government of Alberta announced two new incentives that aim at bolstering the province’s transportation industry, one that has been dealing with shortages for some time.
Firstly, a grant in partnership with the federal government called Driving Back to Work will make Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) — required to earn a Class 1 license — more affordable.
MELT was introduced on March 1, 2019 by the former NDP government following the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. According to the province, the average cost of Class 1 MELT training is $8,900, with the province capping that at $10,000.
“We have a program to help subsidize that training, that will pay up to 90 per cent of it,” Transportation Minister Ric McIver said on Friday. “We have a shortage of drivers as well, so we’re looking for ways to bridge people into getting their bums in the seats, if you will.”
The grant is available for 300 unemployed Albertans who wish to obtain their Class 1 license, a commercial license that allows the driver to operate any vehicle other than a motorcycle. Although MELT is also required for Class 2 licenses, the province isn’t providing a subsidy for that training at this time.
According to Transportation Alberta, truck drivers who require a Class 1 license have been declining in numbers. The province says this is due in part to the inability to bring the same amount of new drivers in as those who are retiring. A shortage of 3,600 is expected by 2023.
In an effort to increase employment further, the province also announced a change to training required to obtain a Class 1 license for those who have previous experience with a Class 3 license.
Dubbed the Experience and Equivalency Class 1 MELT Training Program, Class 3 drivers with at least two years of verifiable experience will be able to take a 40-hour Class 1 training upgrade instead of the 113-hour Class 1 MELT Program, which is focused on brand new drivers.
While the training time is far less arduous in length, president of the Alberta Motor Transport Association Chris Nash says the roads will be just as safe.
“A lot of the national safety code requirement are already included in what you have with Class 3 drivers,” Nash said. “When you have that experience, there’s a lot of redundancy. You’re not sacrificing safety.
“These are folks that are experienced with it, have been working with it.”
Gary Vucurevich with Alberta Sugar Beet Growers says the introduction of MELT raised concerns over the increased cost for farmers needing to get their Class 1 licenses.
He says safety is extremely important to what they do and says this new option is a “best-of-both-worlds” approach.
“We don’t want to be a hazard on the roadways and, right from the outset, we never did ask for an exemption,” Vucurevich said. “But we did ask for some changes to make it a little bit easier for farmers to be able to get their Class 1s or get their employees Class 1s.”
Alberta Transportation says 150,516 Class 1 drivers were registered in the province by March 31, 2020.