Feature, Labour Market

WA industry program opening the door for new truckies

Owner Driver speaks to Western Roads Federation CEO Cam Dumesny about the success of a government-backed training program.

The transport industry needs to open itself to a wider range of workers to counteract the skills gap, according to the Western Roads Federation (WRF).

One of WA’s largest transport bodies, it has been working alongside the state government to deliver the Heavy Vehicle Driving Operations program.

The program aims to offer potential transport workers skills that they might not obtain just going for their heavy vehicle license, giving them practical experience and knowledge for the road before they ever get behind the wheel.

One of the biggest successes so far, WRF CEO Cam Dumesny says, is that it has successfully transitioned more women into the transport workforce.

While it is estimated that just two per cent of transport workers in Australia are women, he says that of the 500 drivers that have become employed through the program in the past two years, 38 per cent are women.

“We basically went to the government three years ago when we had the skill shortage,” Dumesny tells Owner Driver.

“The reality is, there was nobody with experience around. You basically get a driver’s license which teaches you how to steer a truck and comply to road rules.

“What we did was put a course together as industry, which teaches them all the qualifications they need. It also then gives them driver coaching and a license.

“What we also do during the course is we get some older drivers who are there as mentors who are there that come out. That’s the transfer of knowledge that isn’t written in a book.

“We then work with the industry and the students to connect them to employers.”

While the program wasn’t initially targeted on getting women into the transport industry, Dumesny says that it became an obvious focus as it developed.

In a traditionally male-dominated industry, there was an easily identifiable area of improvement to close the skills gap with workers traditionally not employed in jobs behind the wheel of a truck.

This also extended to migrant workers, who may have previously had experience within the transport industry overseas before coming to Australia.

“There are just not enough people in WA for the jobs that are available. Every sector is out fighting to get people into their industry,” Dumesny says.

“Neil Savage from Western Roads, he’s been out speaking to migrant groups, refugee groups, women’s groups, sporting clubs, job agencies. There’s not a segment of the WA population that he hasn’t really gone out and spoken to.

“We found there was a lot of women interested. That’s really become a sweet spot.

“Some are coming through job and unemployment agencies. We’ve had a number of mature-age people, 40s and above, looking for a change of career. They’ve still got 20 years in our industry.

“People coming out of retail, there’s a range of different sectors, people coming into the industry from different backgrounds.

“We’ve even had four women come into the industry from domestic violence backgrounds, and just love working in transport.”

RELATED STORY: Volvo encourages women to drive trucks in new training program

The WA government and WRF are aware of the barriers that migrant workers can face finding employment, particularly if they come in with a language barrier.

Dumesny believes that there is a major opportunity to provide quality training and improve both opportunities for new workers while closing the skill gap.

The best way to that, he explains, is through greater incorporating practical experience in training for all new drivers.

“We’re a migrant-based industry, always have been,” Dumesny says.

“Our industry has been a great opportunity for migrants to build their own lives and opportunities in Australia. We’ve got to find better ways of bringing migrants into the industry.

“What I’d like to see is we develop a course for someone coming from overseas, first validating that they can drive what their license says they can drive, second make sure they’re taught the heavy vehicle regulations, and thirdly we give them a short course on road safety practices.

“It’s things like where to pull up in a rest area, how to communicate with another driver you’re trying to pass on the road.

“All of those things that aren’t written in a book that drivers know, we’ve got to teach them. There’s no use finding out when you’re on the road and copping a mouthful on channel 40 from another driver. It’s not the best way to learn.”

Understanding the skillset that drivers require, and that transport isn’t just getting behind the wheel, will also help to bring more people into the industry, Dumesny says.

“We do still suffer from a negative perception as an industry. People still see it as ‘just truck driving’ in a derogatory sense.

“They’re not realising just how complex and what skillset drivers really need. We haven’t been very good at communicating just how skilled our truck drivers are and bringing some respect back to our industry.

“We’ve got to get better at communicating what our industry does and the skillsets of our drivers, and the career opportunities.

“Some people will stay driving, some people will move into the office and become a fleet manager or the ops room. Some will move up the food chain further.

“There’s a range of career opportunities, but we don’t sell it very well. Not everybody will do it, but there are those opportunities.”

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