Growth & Jobs | Truckers need professional training – Williams Sharpe
Addressing the issue of training is paramount to refine and formalise the trucking and haulage subsector; however, some primary stakeholders are aggrieved about the opportunities available to young people who want to enter the sector.
Jamaica has the potential to increase its earnings from a better formalised industry, director of the All-Island Truckers Association, Judith-Ann Williams Sharpe, believes;, however, issues such as access to formal technical education for drivers limits its potential.
“I don’t believe that at 25 years old you should just start learning,” she opined, arguing that the age requirements for the programmes offered by some of the limited number of institutions is too rigid.
“Most persons (drivers) start from they are 17 or 18 years old, so that is a hold back right there. So why are you going to now go to training at 25, unless you need it for another purpose? Because when you see people training, they are training for migration, they are not training for Jamaica,” Williams Sharpe, who has been in the business of trucking for more than 20 years, reasoned.
“[Those institutions] are for older persons, who have a career and want to switch careers, not for a young person coming in,” she maintains.
Brown’s Town Community College in St Ann offers a tractor trailer driver programme that persons can enter from 18 years old. The tuition for the last academic year, 2018-2019, was $220,000. The Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMU) in the capital city offers a three-month articulated truck driving programme, but the admittance age is higher, at 20 years old. The cost for the CMU programme is $180,000; while Grennell’s Driving School, also in Kingston, provides training, as long as the student already has a general licence. The cost per lesson is about $8,000.
Sharpe believes the cost for some programmes limits access.
“Remember, what we are trying to accomplish in Jamaica is reduced road accidents, so why would you want to set the price so prohibitive that most people are not able to afford to learn? It’s not going to stop them from driving,” she argued.
Teach driving in schools
Sharpe’s solution to the issue is to simply start to teach young people how to drive at an early stage – from high school – and offer an opportunity, especially at technical high schools, for them to learn the rigours of driving commercial vehicles, similar to what, she says, happens in some developed countries.
“By the time they are 17, they will be eligible to have their learner’s licence, so by 16 they should be in a class that’s teaching them the basics of driving,” she proposed.
“Then they move to the sixth-form stage, where those persons who want to go for a tractor-trailer-licence, do a more intense course, which is the mechanical portion of the training,” Sharpe said, noting that if formal training remains inaccessible, then the subsector will continue to languish and never achieve its full potential.
“Not everyone has a trucker for a mom and a dad,” she noted, using her own son as an example to make her point. “Those are the ones now who are going to jump into anybody’s truck and learn what anybody teaches. That’s what you don’t want.”
Tank-Weld’s managing director, John Ralston, acknowledges that there is a dearth of certified drivers in Jamaica. His own company hopes to create a partnership in the future to implement a programme to offer affordable training in an effort to provide not only value-added service to persons purchasing Tank-Weld’s new line of SHACMAN heavy duty trucks, but to improve standards in the sector.
“Large companies, such as Noranda or D&G, or somebody like that, would be able to send their drivers; and we would then be able to pre-train their drivers,” he disclosed in his vision for the programme.
“The spin-offs from that is that, we would produce better quality drivers, and, therefore, have less road fatalities; and insurance rates should, theoretically, come down. It’s a win-win,” he argued.
Mechanic brain drain
In addition to the scramble for certified drivers, there is a similar concern about the availability of trained mechanics to maintain the trucks.
Ralston says there is a brain drain. He noted that although Tank-Weld’s turnover is low, for many companies the rate of attrition is high.
“We are probably losing 15 per cent of our workers, who want to go abroad to widen their horizon, every single year,” he revealed. “The people down on the port, they lose people on a constant basis. I was on the board for the JUTC (Jamaica Urban Transit Company), and they were losing drivers daily, for the same reasons.”
“Where [as] it’s good for the economy, because these people go away and remittances are sent back to Jamaica; however, as a country, we need to produce more drivers, who can replace them, at that same rate as they are leaving,” he said.
He said the Jamaican-German Automotive School (JAGAS), which trains mechanics, for example, needs more resources to expand its capacity if it is to keep up with the demand.
“JAGAS is like a stopgap. What enrollees are doing is to gain experience to go away and do better. Therefore, it’s a constant battle; but, we as a country need to put more funds into that kind of technical training; and that is what I propose,” Ralston said.
Ryan Parkes, who leads the business banking team at JN Bank that provides financing to truckers wanting to purchase new and used motor vehicles and equipment, agrees that raising the standards for mechanics and drivers will redound to the country’s benefit.
“The trucking and haulage subsector is an important link to nearly all our major sectors; therefore, we cannot continue to starve it of the resources needed to improve standards and operations,” he said, pointing to the continued growth of sectors such as mining and quarrying; construction; the wholesale and retail trades; repairs, installation and equipment, which all depend on the trucking and haulage subsector.
“With the right training, We can improve best practices and be in a position to satisfy both the local market and the demand for workers overseas,” he said. “However, more importantly, we need to increase professionalism.”