By Shell on Mar. 15, 2022
The road-transport industry was already battling driver shortages prior to the arrival of COVID, and the pressure on the workforce has only increased during the pandemic.
But the ever-darkening clouds faced by the transport industry over the last couple of years might just deliver a silver lining. With the industry's vital role in the Australian economy thrust to the forefront of public attention, long-term moves to address the issue are gaining momentum.
Bad perceptions, murky career pathways
So why does the trucking industry have trouble attracting new employees to its workforce? According to Australian Trucking Association (ATA) Chair David Smith, a big part of the problem is how the industry is perceived by the wider community.
“It’s no secret that operators around the country have difficulty recruiting truck drivers,” says Smith. “There is a shortage of new starters in the trucking industry and it’s due to the image of the industry and the image of truck driving as a career."
For those who do want to embark on a career behind the wheel, there’s a lack of clear professional and educational pathways. "There are great driving jobs available in our industry but too many job seekers don’t know they exist or don’t know how to get the skills and contacts they need,” explains Smith.
The issues aren't only leaving Australian trucking with a lack of drivers, it's leading to a lack of diversity in the talent that it does attract.
“While the Australian trucking industry is well known for its diverse types of businesses and career opportunities, this diversity is not reflected in workplace demographics,” says Smith. “Data shows the average Australian truck driver is a 47-year-old male, with females accounting for only three per cent of the driver workforce. Close to 60 per cent of truck drivers are aged 45 years or older."
A new age of professionalism
Soon, however, Australians seeking a career in the road-transport industry will be able to embark on a professional truck-driving apprenticeship.
The new national Certificate III in Driving Operations apprenticeship is designed to address driver shortages across Australia, create career pathways, and ensure the safety of those working in the industry and all other road users.
It will be targeted at existing heavy-vehicle drivers, new entrants to the industry, and school leavers, with pre-apprenticeship courses to be delivered in high schools to prepare the latter.
The Transport and Logistics Industry Reference Committee (IRC) – the national committee responsible for ensuring that training qualifications are aligned with industry needs – announced its proposal for the new apprenticeship in November 2021 and the Federal Government gave approval for work to begin in December 2021. The IRC noted in its proposal that a national apprenticeship won't solve all of the transport industry's labour-force challenges but was an important first step in addressing the issue.
Now the baton has been handed to states and territories, who will work with the Federal Government and the industry to develop the framework of the program. Once adopted by each state's training regime, it will be underpinned by Commonwealth funding for apprenticeships and training.
The ATA has called for the first apprentices to be starting on the job in 2023, while also ensuring their future employers are properly supported.
"As part of this plan, the future supervisors of apprentice drivers should be able to access free, nationally recognised training in how to supervise apprentices," says Smith.
New champions celebrated
Down at the ground level, the ATA has been working with the industry to implement changes that broaden its talent pool.
In 2020 it launched the inaugural Driving Change Diversity Program to celebrate industry diversity, develop diversity champions and encourage new entrants into the workforce.
The program has continued since, showcasing its 'champions' though a social-media storytelling series. Last year’s champions were also hosted at the ATA’s Trucking Australia conference in September 2021 for an intensive workshop, where they learned how to create change and facilitate diversity in their workplace and community, share personal insights, and develop clear action items on how to drive change within industry.
"This program is our way of addressing this issue and broadening the industry talent pool," says Smith. "We are driving change to ensure our industry has the tools to foster inclusive and welcoming environments for people from all backgrounds and expertise."