The whole issue of getting the right kind of training is starting to take on some momentum. One of the pioneers of getting it right and producing truly professional drivers is Heather Jones who leads the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls, based in Karratha in Western Australia.
The PHHG started several years ago. At the time there was pressure on the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency to include truck driving in the Consolidated Skilled Occupation List to enable transport companies to bring foreign drivers into Australia on 457 Visas.
There was also an assertion the trucking industry had struggled to attract women and aboriginal Australians to participate. One submission summed it up in this way, ‘the industry is very male dominated and a perception of a ‘boys’ club’ culture may be off-putting to women’.
“At the time there were thirty female drivers in Karratha, and we used to meet every six weeks,” says Heather. “We had specific issues, like being a little bit shorter and weaker than men. So, we would bounce around ideas on how to counteract this. Things like putting up bolsters, changing a tyre, we do it the easy way, not the bloke’s way. We had a laugh and would share knowledge.
“We discussed how we could become more visible. We decided to start an organisation, specifically aimed to bring women and young guys into the industry. We have a good bunch of girls. We wanted to be visible but not be a target, so we decided to start wearing hi-vis pink shirts. Then we contacted the media and it then snowballed. All around the world, the press did a story on us. We are girls, in the Wild West playing with big toys.
“That generated an immediate response. I could have stopped driving and just answered emails, Facebook and other contacts. Even now it could be a full time job. Whenever there’s another story we will get another 50 to 100 people saying they want to join us.”
Heather says she reckons there would be enough ‘new to the industry’ truck drivers in Australia to fill the drivers’ seats. Where the shortfall comes is in drivers who have experience. She decided addressing this problem was the important issue.
“If we address that gap we will have no issues,” says Heather. “We will have professional trained truck drivers to fill the seats of those who are retiring and cope with the doubling of the freight task.”
One part of this initiative has seen Heather visiting schools, with a couple of priorities, to enhance awareness of trucks and their blindspots, as well as promoting trucking as a career.
“I love this job and I want as many people as possible to experience it,” says Heather. “It really is a fantastic job and we have the most remarkable people. I tell the guys they are the cornerstone of society. Don’t ever say you are a dumbass truck driver. Without trucks we don’t have a society.”
For the PHHG, the business of paying the bills is important too, and the trucks need to pay their way. 50 per cent of the work being handled by the operation involves waste out of gas installations and mine sites. The rest of the work is in and out of the port at Karratha, involving single trailer general freight work, plus moving machines with a float, as and when required.