Danny Maron, owner/trainer of Ideal Forklift Training in Canada's national capital, is an independent consultant, providing the education lift truck operators require, to businesses and government, to minimise the chance of incidents in the workplace. Before founding Ideal in 2000, Danny was a trainer at Canada's largest forklift dealer.
The influx of non-English speakers from less privileged backgrounds is placing a new strain on forklift training, according to Danny Maron
As an independent training consultant over the past 17 years, I have regularly given up one weekend per month for random individuals seeking to be educated about powered industrial lift trucks, either at a community college or at a local business (currently) which offers me the training space and lift truck.
The program has been consistent, and the test results fairly consistent as well. The only factor that has not been consistent is the nationality of the students attending the courses. As our society changes, more and more individuals are coming to our shores to seek a better life, and because their skills or schooling are not up to our standards, gaining meaningful employment in the high-tech industry, medical industry, legal industry or any other professional industry becomes challenging. So where do many turn? Forklift operation.
Back in the early 2000s, there was no problem, but as more immigrants sought other countries to live, my individual classes have seen a healthy increase in immigrant students, whose comprehension of the language, education levels and competencies are often not equal to our western standards. Many students who attend my courses have minimal language skills, and even fewer comprehension skills.
Business owners tend to set standards for our products and services. Whether you eat at McDonald's in Canada, USA, Europe or Asia, you expect to receive the same quality food every store you enter - at approximately the same price, in an environment that you have become accustomed to over the years. I, too, set standards, and my business runs by these standards. For example, my major sit-down forklift written test has 50 questions, and the passing grade is 90%. Why 90%? Because the truck is a killing machine, and there is no going back and repeating the task safely after someone has been injured or killed. So having anything more than five mistakes, to me, doesn't allow me to believe the individual understands the course content, even though the materials were delivered in a manner that is easily understandable, with analogies that break the points down so all may understand. Or so I thought.
Scores of 70% or 80% are common amongst these groups, and that is discouraging. The law states that in order to operate a powered industrial forklift, one must be competent. And the way the government describes competency is "Knowledge, Training, and Experience". How does one test one's knowledge and training? That is by the written tests. If they fail the written tests because they do not understand the language, or they do not comprehend, how does one deem someone competent?
Many students have minimal language skills. PHOTO: YOUTUBE
In the past, not a problem; but by today's standards, you could be called anti-immigrant, discriminatory or arrogant. And if you are not any of these three, how do you deem someone competent knowing full well that they do not understand the materials, and if you don't deem them competent, how can you do so without being accused of discrimination?
If it is not a problem for you, then you do have a problem, because if you are presenting your courses diligently, you would definitely be experiencing this problem. So, I decided to give a call to the workplace safety and health department in Ontario, and the kind gentleman conceded that I have a point. He admitted that there is a loophole, because our provincial ministry has no guidelines on this topic, or any other topic, regarding training. He suggested that maybe a translator be present, and when this did occur, the translator was present the entire day. How do I know that the translator isn't feeding the student the correct answers, since I do not know the language. He suggested using pictures instead of text on the tests; however, none of us has the time or resources to put these tests together. Also, many questions cannot be asked pictorially. All he recommended is to do what I am doing - and do what I think is right. He did express his understanding but said he was powerless to do anything other than wish me good luck and urge me to stick to my standards. I thanked him, and asked him if he would be a witness, or defend me, if I am thrown in front of the human rights tribunal. He laughed, and said just keep doing what you are doing.
So another call was made directly to the ministry, and an official reiterated the information, yet understood my concern, and agreed that there is a loophole, and this has never been addressed. Although he says he will pass it on to the policymakers, he too suggested to do the best I can.
However, it is the companies who hire them which make the determination as to how competent that person is. From my experience, as long as they come in with a permit, they should know everything they must know. Employers will assume that they are competent and, especially the smaller businesses, take the certification at face value. That does not bear well for my business as they are expecting me to make that determination when I issue out the permits.
So here I am, as others should be, stuck between a rock and a hard place. We want to help, but there are constraints of time and resources. We want to be fair, but there is only so much that we can do. Without any explanations from the government, our hands are tied. People's lives may be at risk, yet you must be politically correct. But not when our income and people's lives are dependent upon the choices we must make in our businesses.
Yes, the times are a-changin' - and maybe not for the better.