The driver training initiative out of Western Australian, led by, campaigner, Heather Jones is starting to get some real traction, including two trucks from the Volvo Group, Diesel News headed out to Karratha to see what’s going on.
This is not anything like a conventional driving school, commercially based and helping drivers get their tickets. This is something different, a hands on method for turning young drivers and female drivers who already have a ticket to drive a multiple combination and turning them from someone with a license and no experience into a truck driver capable of starting work tomorrow.
Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls is a very particular organisation. It is neither fish nor fowl, some kind of hybrid organisation, started with the best of intentions and reliant on the goodwill of others for its survival. Many years of organic growth seem to be reaching their fruition this year with a number of factors falling into place this year, to give the whole project the kind of kickstart it needs.
This real work the operation does every day is steady, year round and also allows a couple of days every few weeks to do the classroom side of the training. Luckily, and it needs to be part of the business model, the tasks are not normally time sensitive. This allows enough time to get the job done with someone who is being trained doing a lot of the work and having it checked by a trainer.
Aiding and abetting Heather is her offsider, Rob, another keen proponent of safe professional drivers, with long experience in trucking. Together they spend their time mentoring the inexperienced to get them to the point where they are able to find good employment.
Currently, PHHG can handle two or three trainees a month, some for a month, others for a couple of weeks. Accommodation is limited, at the moment, but when it is organised, capacity should go up to four a month.
“Everything behind the cab is what we train, “ says Heather. “Load restraint, tyre changing, tippers, tankers, tilt tray recovery, a day in a pilot vehicle and oversize loads. Officially, they are on work experience and we have work experience insurance for them, from NTI. It’s really simple to get the insurance but a senior driver has to supervise them at all times.
“The training is all free. We give them a certificate of participation and we list what they have done. Every single person who has been through our training program has been employed within two weeks of leaving us. There are companies waiting for our next batches, all of the time. We are not training, we are mentoring and coaching.
“We have 500 people on our waiting list. I, jokingly, say, I’ll be dead before we get through them. We need more people to come on board, industry has to do this and they have to do it right. We have owner drivers who will come in under our umbrella and train people, as well, but they have got to be to our standards. They have got the same mindset as me and want to promote safety and professionalism.”
Heather reckons the system they have devised needs to be replicated in every state. This is probably where the likes of Volvo would come in. The truck maker is already talking about creating some kind of truck driver academy, as part of its initiative.
“Yes, there’s stuff you can learn in the yard and stuff you can learn in the classroom,” says Heather. “That has to be ten per cent of what we are doing. This is high risk job, we need to have 90 per cent of time in the truck and ten per cent in the classroom. They do need to learn how to read permits and find out the routes they can use. Those things can only be learnt in the classroom, the rest has to be out in the truck.
“Maybe, we can find some high end operators and place the trainees in their truck. We can then go from state to state. We need professional transport companies, not the ones who are always on TV.
“People who have done my course, I give them the authority to say no. I say, this is your life, you don’t want to do something which results in people being killed on the road. If someone says to you, you’ve got to take this, you can say no. If they are going to sack you, you don’t want to work for that company anyway.”