“The community perception of freight is really poor,” said Craig Smith-Gander, Chairman of the Western Roads Federation and Managing Director of Kwik Logistics, at WA Freight and Logistics Symposium recently. “We’ve got to make government understand that what happens in transport is not just the Metronet train system in Perth.
“There is a skills shortage and what we tend to do is cannibalise each other. Rather than find people to come into our industry, what we do is take them off someone else. We are increasing the demand and not increasing the supply and first year economics will tell you that means prices will go up. The average age of a truck driver in Australia is over 60. That’s a terrible statistic and is damning for our country as a whole. There’s a lack of new entrants and it’s not seen as a career.”
Craig then called for examples from around the room of the issues facing the industry. The Keys Group is involved in removals and do spend a lot of time talking to school leavers and getting school coordinators to visit their facilities. The company has developed a documented career path, which they can show potential entrants into the industry. However, the response to job ads is declining for all of these businesses. To retain drivers, the company is paying its road train drivers 44 per cent above the award rate.
The K&S dangerous goods business in WA has been between five and 10 drivers short for the past 18 months. The average age of drivers continues to rise, currently at 53 but moving ever upwards. There is a 73 year old driver in the fleet, with the youngest driver at 34. Despite developing strategies to find and retain drivers, they are losing them to poaching from other operators.
The Expressway courier business in Perth is having big problems with an average age of 62 for its drivers. There are only two contractors in the business under 48. Advertising for new couriers receives zero response. In the past, drivers started in couriers when young, moved up to trucks as they got older and then returned to courier work at a later stage. Now drivers do not return, because the trucking industry pays to retain them.
The WRF is currently in talks with the WA government to create a training facility. The plan would be to develop such a facility in regional WA. Funding is now in place from the government for a feasibility study.
“What we are trying to do is create a career pathway for people who want to join the transport industry, or more to the point, haven’t considered joining,” said Craig. “This will take some time to put together, but whist doing it, what else can we do? How we recruit and where we recruit from is also an important thing. How we form pathways.
“Providing logical career pathways to young people about to enter the workforce is something, we as an industry need to develop. There needs to be a logical progression from a lower skilled younger age group through to a higher skilled group. People need to see they can stay in the industry for a long time. We need to adopt an industry approach and we need to adopt a framework. We need to ensure government is behind us while we are doing it.
“You’ve got a kid who is 16 or 17, doesn’t think they will go to university. We are not seen as a profession and we are not seen as a trade. So, when little Johnny or little Mary says to Mum and Dad when they are 16, ‘I don’t want to go to university’, the parents are going to tell them to go and become a plumber, or an electrician or boiler maker.”
“Parents aren’t going to recommend truck driving because every truckie they see is over 50, they are crashing on the TV news or see the dangers of the industry are being hyped up. It’s the job of the trucking industry to get the idea of becoming a truck driver into that conversation between parent and child”, reckons Craig.
One of the aims of the training initiative will be to provide license holders with advanced driver training. This will create a system that prepares a person to be a competent driver in their chosen sector. There is a requirement for young drivers to undergo a long period of supervised driving before being able to drive a car, but there is no similar requirement to drive a road train.
There will need to be strong involvement and engagement from the trucking industry to ensure the kind of training envisaged actually prepares young people properly to enter the road transport workforce as useful participants with a chance to develop a real career.
Getting a National Result
This initiative in the west is not the only one emerging. There are similar courses being developed in the eastern states for the same reasons. There are some issues which particularly affect the WA trucking industry, but most of the issues which afflict trucking and are leading to the shortfall in recruitment are very similar all over Australia.
The pursuit of this solution in WA illustrates both a WA problem and a national problem. The future of the trucking industry depends on the success of a model which can attract bright young people into the freight industry and the two prongs of attack being suggested at this symposium are key to any solution.
The trucking industry does need to regain its social license to operate or face increasing resistance to future development of productivity. It also risks being left behind as an industry if it cannot improve its image and set up some kind of entry portal for the next generation to do the work involved in getting stuff from A to B in the future.