How does a truck driver with skills and experience differentiate themselves from a newbie fresh from their licence test, how do they go about proving they’re a professional driver? There are new courses in which drivers get a more professional qualification, Diesel News Editor, Tim Giles, decided to get assessed on one of them.
The ProDriver course is part of a group of courses which have been developed by DECA in recent years as they have realised fleets have begun to realise there is a need for some form of formal recognition of the kinds of skills professional truck drivers need.
It is no longer about jumping in a truck and getting the load from A to B as quickly as possible and damn the consequences. This attitude comes from a time back in the seventies and eighties when there was little real regulation of trucking and a laissez faire attitude from customers about how the road transport operator got the job done.
Times have changed as the emphasis on safety and responsibility have come into focus. As safety initiatives began to reduce the road toll, trucking operations began to see the value of schemes like TruckSafe and the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation scheme. The trucks and trailers became safer and business practices within the operations began to become more responsible.
The larger transport customers began to look for reassurance, to be more certain the operators hauling goods out of their factory gates were acting responsibly and there was not bad behaviour among their contractors, which could reflect back badly upon them.
One of the areas which didn’t see any change in requirements was in driver licensing. Employers could ascertain the driver had passed a test for the LR, HR, HC or MC license they held and could run a license check to check the license was valid, but that was the limit. There was no piece of paper available to vouch for the driver’s aptitude for the work and how well they handled the task.
At this point two things happened which would start a shift in the attitude of both operators and customers into the ability to ascertain whether a truck driver was any good at their job. The first was the introduction of the first attempt at a chain of responsibility regime and the second was the loosening of the rules governing how those who trained the drivers and awarded their licenses were regulated.
As of 2003/4 freight customers needed to look up and down the supply chain to see if there would be any blowback for their organisation if a breach of the rules occurred. If any blame for an incident could be traced back to some action on their part, they could become liable.
At the same time the freeing up of the driver training sector saw a large number of training organisations appear and start competing for the dollars of would-be truck drivers. From the point of view of the drivers, passing the test and getting the license was paramount. The art of training a driver to be a good responsible driver started to get lost in the mix and schools competed on price to attract students.
It is at this point where the anecdotal evidence about the skill levels of new drivers begins to build up. Worrying YouTube videos start to appear in news feeds and on Facebook. This influx of low skill drivers coincides with a worsening driver shortage as the baby boomer generation start to reach the age of retirement.
Into this situation, initiatives from around Australia start to develop. Employers are looking for some sort of reassurance this driver can do the job, can secure the load, will act responsibly in a truck with the company name splashed across it. Over in Western Australia, Heather Jones and her Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls come on the scene and DECA come up with the ProDriver concept.
It’s a simple idea. There is a two day course for any driver in which they get training in safe, efficient and responsible driving both in a theoretical and practical form. It is a way for an experienced driver to prove they are good at their job and deserve a good employment opportunity. It is also a method for the trucking operator to demonstrate to their customer the operation is safe and responsible.
A second component, designed for the bigger fleets, is a five day train the trainer course where the company’s driver trainers get an intensive course in the principles of safe, efficient responsible driving and are equipped with the tools to get this message over to the drivers in their workplace. Both of these courses are backed up with a regular refresher every two years to keep the standards up and update the message.