More Castlegar casualties of B.C. budget

By Contributor
March 10th, 2010

Members of the B.C.trucking industry, including schools that train people to become professional drivers lie Mountain Transport Institute here in Castlegar, fear that a cap on government tuition subsidies will have an impact on highway safety and contribute to driver shortages if alternative funding is not made available.

For years, the federal government has provided out-of-work individuals collecting Employment Insurance (EI) funds to train them for new types of work. Then last April, Ottawa handed the responsibility for distributing this subsidy to the provinces. Because the recession put so many people out of work, many raced to get retraining and the money was quickly spent. Against that backdrop, B.C. capped the tuition subsidy at $4,000 per training program. Prior to that, there had been no cap on retraining.

Andy Roberts, president of the Mountain Transport Institute, said he believes the $4,000 cap is insufficient to cover the costs of his program, which provides students with enough training to make them safe, fully employable, entry-level professional drivers. His driver-training programs cost, on average, $14,000.

Roberts is advocating that B.C. provides a loan program or loan guarantee to driver-students. He says the current student loans programs funded by the federal and B.C. governments don’t provide enough money to cover the more expensive training programs (heavy equipment operator, professional driver, pilot, etc.), which require one-to-one training and the use of expensive machinery.

Roberts said he has had to lay off four full-time staff members due to a lack of students for his programs.

He also said he’s not looking for government handouts.

“But with the sudden policy change, there must be another way for people to fund their retraining. If the $4,000 cap is to stay in place for EI retraining, then the government must quickly create a loan program or loan guarantee program so individuals who are unemployed can access a level of training that will allow them to become safe, employable professional drivers.”

Industry leaders say they fear that, as the economy begins to improve and once again creates a shortage of professional drivers, B.C. trucking companies will be hampered in their ability to provide top service for their clients and seize new opportunities for growth. Class 1 drivers who haven’t received advanced training and mentoring may cause safety  issues on the highways – and that affects everyone.

Categories: General