For founding owners Yvan Chartrand and Louise Philbin, 5th Wheel Training Institute was born out of necessity.
The couple started their own trucking company in New Liskeard with one vehicle in the mid-1980s, but had difficulty finding drivers to operate the truck seven days a week.
“There weren't enough truck drivers in this area,” said president and executive director Ed Popkie. “So Yvan started training those who wanted to work for him.”
However, with larger competing companies also looking for drivers, Chartrand was training a lot of people in order to keep the vehicle on the road. But it wasn't long before other companies started sending their prospective drivers to Chartrand to learn the trade. In 1989, the couple's sideline training business was registered as a career college. Chartrand continued teaching while Philbin, who was a teacher, developed the curriculum.
Currently, 5th Wheel offers a variety of programs including truck driver, heavy equipment operator, servicer (to work in service and repair shops), surface miner common core, and a variety of certificate and wallet card courses. Train the trainer, on-site trainer and instructor certification programs are also available, along with the ability to build your own training program.
“They kept doing it on their own until 1993, when I was hired as manager,” Popkie said.
That same year, his wife, Christine, was also hired as administrator and the two couples eventually formed a partnership.
The college has steadily grown over the years and satellite locations have been added in Sudbury and Watford (Sarnia-Lampton area). In addition to the 28-acre training site in the Dymond industrial park north of New Liskeard, its main administrative office is located in Haileybury in the former jail.
“We have never really looked back,” Popkie said.
The institute entered into a partnership with College Boreal and started offering transport driver training in Kapuskasing, Hearst and Cochrane. Through that partnership, 5th Wheel established its Sudbury location and practical training is conducted on property owned by Tracks and Wheels on Highway 69 North.
“We have classroom facilities at the college in Sudbury but our business relationship with Tracks and Wheels allows our students to get the practical training on the 10 acres available to us,” Popkie said.
Fifth Wheel is looking at establishing a permanent site in Cochrane since the community is benefitting from the development of Detour Gold and other mining initiatives in the area.
“It's a very strong place right now for employment opportunity,” he said. “There's a lot of activity and a lot of good things are happening there.”
The longest program runs for 12 weeks and free accommodation is available to those training in Watford and New Liskeard. The truck training, which is what the company is known for, does not account for the largest segment of enrolment. But, the AZ program is certified by the Professional Truck Driver Institute which most insurance companies recognize as equivalent to two years of on-the-job training.
“That's a valuable stamp of approval and a huge advantage over our competitors,” Popkie said. “It's an important aspect when companies are looking to hire drivers.”
Corporate training is offered and the company wants to begin to actively market it.
“It is industry coming to us,” Popkie said. “But when times are good, they are busy and when times are tough, there is no budget for them to do training.”
However, he said that type of training provides a return on investment for companies since it results in employees acquiring skills they don't have or verifying the skills that are there, or not there, and certifying them to industry standards.
“It keeps people motivated and motivated employees are better employees,” he said.
The majority of the students fall between the ages of 30 to 35 and Popkie said most are in transition.
“Some come here because they have always thought it was something they wanted to do or they have lost their career and looking for one to do next,” he said. “It is geared to the adult learner and those looking for a second career.”
For those taking a five-week course or longer, students are given a half-day course on job searching and leave with a polished resume.
“It's hard to balance your emotions if you are in transition,” Popkie said. “There is probably the responsibility of a mortgage and family and they are scared and overwhelmed.”
The students are taught how to get a job, interview skills and how to keep one.
“Some got a job right out of high school so starting over, for whatever reason, can be very difficult,” he said.
“Our full training programs are the ones that get people new careers. There are other private career colleges offering these courses, but we are one of the most successful.”