Byron Buckley, Associate Editor - Special Projects
At 2 a.m., Dilwick Williams climbs into the cab of a 30-wheeler double trailer to begin a 12-hour ride from Fort McMurray, Alberta, transporting goods for Trimac Transportation Services. He is about to journey several hundred kilometers across Canada in snowy, icy conditions.
"MTI [Mountain Transport Institute] prepared us mentally for this job. They exposed us to everything during the two weeks of training," explained Williams, one of 55 truck drivers from Jamaica hired by Canadian transportation firms last summer. Upon arrival in Canada, they were prepared by Mountain Transport Institute (MTI) to write the driver's licensing examination.
"As all the drivers have been pre-screened in Jamaica and studied hard to prepare for trucking in Canada, we have maintained 100 per cent success in them attaining their Canadian licences," reported Andy Roberts, president of MTI Ltd. "As the drivers adjust to Canadian expectations, including arriving five minutes early for classes, they become very good, dedicated students."
Jamaican driver Napthali Peterkin pointed out that his employer (Trimac) gave him additional training in 'winter ride' - how to manoeuvre the truck in snowy conditions. "When you leave MTI, there is an in-house driver-training programme that you are taken through for a few days to learn the Trimac policy and culture," he said.
Trimac, a leading transportation company in North America, "invests a significant amount of time and energy orienting and training new employees to its culture and standards to ensure they understand clearly what is expected", according to Les Rozander, recruiting director for Trimac Canada. "Our Jamaican hires have proven to be adaptable and team-oriented professionals that have assimilated into Trimac's culture with ease."
Although they are from a different culture and less developed country than Canada, the Jamaican drivers have fitted in like cogs in a wheel.
"We are provided with brand new equipment - 2010 models are the oldest trucks in the fleet," testified Kobre Campbell, who drives for Atlantic Diversified Transportation Systemsout of Debert, Nova Scotia. "They treat us really well. We are just like part of the family."
Richard Singh, who traverses the hilly terrains of British Columbia in snow, is thankful that the trucks are in good condition. "The challenge is with snow or ice on the hill. Going up or coming down is a challenge. Sometimes you have to chain the tires, mostly to get up the hill. But the trucks are good to go and there is no fear of them breaking down," he said.
Singh notes that at DCT Chambers Trucking Ltd, where he is employed, "you are pretty much left on your own to carry out the job and are not pressured in any way". He contacts his supervisors only if a problem develops with the truck.
safeguard against fatigue
After 12 hours of driving, he hands the vehicle over to another driver and takes a mandatory break of at least 10 hours before starting another shift. Upon completion of 70 hours in seven days total, Singh will take a 36-hour break from driving. This rule helps commercial drivers to operate their vehicles safely, without becoming fatigued.
According to recruiting firm HireProDrivers, Canada is experiencing an unprecedented shortage of qualified professional truck (trailer) drivers as its workforce continues to age and drivers retire. The recruiting firm is seeking to help 300 foreign drivers transition into jobs in Canada in 2013 and fully expects that number to grow next year.
There were anxious moments for the drivers during the recruitment process. It started in Jamaica early last year, when they responded to an announcement by the Ministry of Labour seeking experienced truck drivers to fill positions in Canada. "The processing time was a bit long. However, I understand that the Canadian government must do its due diligence to protect the integrity of the system. The recruiters did their best," Singh said. "But the investment in our driver training, evaluation and academic support is worth it. While we had shortage of work in Jamaica, there is always work here."
HireProDrivers said the process took a considerable time as it was necessary to upgrade the drivers' academic standards before potential employers in Canada would accept them.
With the anxious moments now behind him, Peterkin is pleased that "we are receiving top-of-the-line treatment, compared to media reports of how other foreign workers elsewhere in Canada are treated".
At 2 p.m. Dilwick Williams completes his 12-hour shift. He remembers when he arrived in cold Canada last November, "being so far from warm and sunny Jamaica, at first I wondered if I had made the right decision".
"Today I have no regrets," he said.