A new Driving Back to Work grant program in Alberta will make the Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) required to earn a Class 1 commercial licence more affordable.

The new program, titled The Experience and Equivalency program, will reduce the time it takes for Class 3 drivers to upgrade to their Class 1.

A dedicated $3 million from the Alberta government for the program will cover up to 90 per cent of the cost of the MELT program for 300 unemployed Albertans to get their Class 1 commercial truck driver licence.

Team Alberta — which consists of Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, Alberta Pulse Growers, and Alberta Canola — welcomes the announcement of the program, saying it will make it easier for agricultural producers, with at least two years of Class 3 driving experience to earn their Class 1.

In particular, the Experience and Equivalency program recognizes farmers and farm workers’ previous driving experience, and their commitment to safety by allowing Class 3 drivers to take a reduced, 40 hour MELT program.

John Guelly, chair of Alberta Canola, says the need for Class 1 drivers licenses on farms will continue to grow as farms expand, efficiencies improve, and crop yields increase.

“For farm businesses that operate on tight margins, these programs are a welcome relief to hire skilled employees and enable them to continue working on farms, while upgrading licences on farms to Class 1,” says Guelly.

Team Alberta, and other agriculture stakeholders, previously advocated for changes to the MELT program to reduce barriers that were significantly impacting farmers, such as: high program costs, limited training spaces, difficulties booking testing appointments, and labour shortages.

A similar program was introduced in Manitoba this week, which will cover up to two-thirds of the cost of tuition for employees, up to a maximum of $50,000 per employer. The Manitoba grant includes training that takes place between November 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.

Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) — Manitoba’s general farm group — advocated for changes to the MELT program, noting the added financial barriers to entering the MELT program.

“MELT training ensures that farmers receive high-quality training that will keep them safe on Manitoba highways,” says KAP president Bill Campbell. “This time-limited grant is a step in the right direction, and we encourage all farmers in Manitoba to take advantage of this program. Manitoba farmers are not using their Class 1 licences to take on long-haul routes, they just need to be able to safely move grain and livestock to market.”

Related: MELT program necessary but costly, in more ways than one

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