Feature

Trends emerging in driver shortage

Driver shortage

There are currently an estimated 200,000 truck drivers working in Australia. And this is still not even close to enough.

A simple search for ‘truck driver’ on any popular job website reveals nearly 20,000 results. You may find different facts and figures elsewhere, but it’s clear that there are more and more positions that need filling.

Couple this with the ageing workforce (the federal government estimates the average age of truck drivers at 47 – the national average for all jobs is 39) and you’ve got a clear crisis on your hands.

Owner//Driver spoke to Jess Hubbard, director at Melbourne-based Freight Management Solutions, about trends that she has seen emerge in driver recruitment.

Hubbard’s previous role was as a recruitment and HR consultant for a bulk commodities transport business which services primarily the eastern seaboard. She was primarily in charge of advertising for and recruiting drivers for long haul interstate work.

Those jobs were particularly intense, but consisted of work that many interstate drivers can probably relate to – far too much time on the road and away from home.

“The drivers I recruited would often have to spend six nights a week sleeping in the truck, and then they’d have one day a week at home,” Hubbard explains.

“It’s pretty intense. It’s a lot of time on the road, and away from family. It was challenging to find drivers who were wanting to do that type of work and spend that that amount of time away from home and away from family.”

Hubbard believes that some of the recruiting processes contributed to the struggle to get more highly qualified drivers behind the wheel. They would have drivers applying from all over Australia, who would then have to make their own way to the business to perform a number of pre-requisite tests.

“After submitting a resume, we would require drivers to come to an induction so that they could do a drug and alcohol test and a driving test, and then we would allocate a truck to them,” she explains.

“You’d have to get people that were based all around Australia to come to Albury and New South Wales to do a driving induction. That was another challenge, they’ve got to come all that way to get allocated a truck.

“We had problems because it’s an ageing workforce. It’s not a highly desirable position anymore for people to get into. It’s hard people with families, on physical health and wellbeing as well. There’s major mental health issues within the industry.

“Being very isolated away from other people, and driving for sometimes days at a time without really having much interaction with others, is a bit of a problem.”

Searching for experience

One of the other issues the industry continues to face is the search for experienced and skilled drivers.

While the federal government looks to continue to invest in rail, industry experts still maintain that there will always be freight that needs to be moved by road.

Australia’s unique geography has always proved a challenge, with swathes of near-empty inland and significant distance between capital cities and economic centres.

While everyone continues to search for the most efficient way to move freight, it’s no easy task to find drivers experienced enough in interstate driving or getting behind the wheel of a road train.

“When I was recruiting for the business I worked for, we always required two years minimum experience,” Hubbard says.

“And there were quite a few drivers that would call and ask, ‘Well, how am I meant to get experience if everyone wants experience?’ And I think that’s really true.”

Hubbard says that the pathways to get drivers into the transport industry, particularly in freight haulage, needs to be better defined in order to continue to attract new drivers.

“If you’re wanting to get experience in other lines of the supply chain logistics industry, you can start off working in a warehouse, for example, as a picker and packer. And you don’t need much experience to be able to do that, but then you might be able to progress into, eventually driving a forklift, for example.

“But if you’re wanting to get into being a driver, a truck driver, then if you don’t have parents or family members or someone close that you can kind of learn from then how you meant to get that experience. Being able to come in through different avenues would be very beneficial for the industry.”

Positive trends emerging

Owner//Driver also spoke to Kate Beck, co-owner and director of Beck’s Transport Training, an ACT based heavy vehicle licensing and training business.

Beck’s is a family-owned and operated Canberra-based business which deals with heavy vehicle licensing for the ACT and surrounding New South Wales from light rigids all the way through to multi-combination.

Through the business, Kate works with a wide range of people looking to either obtain or upgrade their licence, from “anyone from school teachers who drive the coaster buses to excursions right through to those that have been in the industry for a while and are looking to upgrade to the next level”.

She says that in the ACT and surrounds, Beck’s has noticed an upwards trend in people coming from outside the transport industry looking to get a heavy vehicle licence.

“At the moment we’ve seen a growing demand for medium and heavy rigids, a lot of people who are at the starting point coming into the industry,” Kate says.

“Probably over the last two months it’s been our biggest demand of bookings. A lot of them are new to the industry and not attached to companies. They’re looking for employment afterwards.

“That’s an increase I don’t think we’ve seen for about six to eight months. I think it’s fantastic. The more people we can encourage to see the industry as a career and not just a pit stop job, the better.

“I don’t think there’s enough positivity out there about what the transport industry can do as a career. To see people changing that attitude and getting a start and seeing where they can go, it’s going in an encouraging direction.”

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