A couple of years ago Diesel met up with Lee Roberts as she was working on becoming a job-ready truck driver and training with the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls. Now, we meet up with her and find out how she has fared in the trucking industry since then.
The trucking industry has been battling with the same problem for some time, the gap between driver licensing and driver skills. There are plenty of drivers who have a license allowing them to drive a certain class of truck, anything up to a road train, but lack the necessary skills to properly handle the vehicle in a safe and practical way.
Transport operators often lack the resources to take on a driver who has the correct license, but no experience. Driver training schools are not obliged to prepare a driver for work; they just prepare them to pass the test.
One small organisation in the remote northern reaches of West Australia, in Karratha, is trying to address this issue in a limited way. The Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls (PHHG) and their spokesperson Heather Jones take licensed but inexperienced drivers out on the road with them in a crash course in the realities and procedures of life on the road in a road train.
When Diesel News featured PHHG and their pink trucks, one of the trainees working with them was Lee Roberts who had got her MC license, but was unable to get work driving a multi-combination because of her lack of experience.
Lee has always been a keen driver, getting her car license on her 17th birthday. Pizza delivery was her first driving job, in a Mini Moke. Both her father and brother got their truck licenses and a female friend of the family drove haul packs.
“I thought I would just try it out,” says Lee. “I got my HR license when I was working in a fly-in-fly-out job in Dampier at the gas plant. I also got my crane tickets while I was there. It was impossible to get truck driving work there, so I started working as a driver for TipTop in Perth to get some work experience. I went back to work in Dampier later, getting more and more tickets and more and more licenses.
“I wanted to get my big girl license and my work would pay for me to get it but then I fell pregnant, so that was the last of that. When my second child was 12 weeks old I went back to work at the same employers, I borrowed some money to pay for two lessons and then went for my MC license. As a single mum with two small kids, I didn’t have a lot of money.”
At this time, Lee was working full time hours but stayed on as a casual, because she needed to take days off to look after the kids. In the end, the operator used the excuse that dropping the kids off at school made her too late to be able to do the job and let her go.
“I emailed Heather and told her I had got my MC license, but I shouldn’t have it, to be honest, because I didn’t know much, but I could reverse a B-double back 70 metres,” says Lee. “I was pretty sure there was a lot more stuff I needed to know. Going up to Karratha and working with Heather was invaluable.”