How the transport industry can take small steps for big change

By Peta Gowans, transport specialist at Kelvin Baxter Transport

Last week, Australia recognised NAIDOC Week, a time to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of our First Nations peoples. For those of us working in transport, this is also a chance to reflect on how we’re opening the door to First Nations people – and people from all walks of life – to participate in the industry.

For the last few years, I’ve come to work in my Koori colours during NAIDOC Week. Something as simple as being able to express and celebrate that at work has meant a lot to me. It highlighted the power of ran inclusive workplace that lets everyone be themselves.

My role as an ATA and Teletrac Navman 2021 Diversity Champion has also strengthened my passion for encouraging inclusivity in transport. Now that NAIDOC Week is over, here are some of the issues I think the industry needs to reflect on in order to improve representation and build a more welcoming culture.

Connection to the land

Land is fundamental for First Nations people, both physically and spiritually. This year’s NAIDOC Week theme was all about recognising, protecting and maintaining our culture and heritage. When it comes to the transport industry, we’ve got trucks driving and people working on the land, and this work helps me feel a real connection to the land. But there’s more education needed for drivers and businesses to understand what land they’re on, and how to protect and treat it with respect.

Whether you’re working in farming and agriculture, travelling in trucks across Australia, or operating from an office that sits on traditional land, we’re all connected to the land in some way. Encouraging staff to be aware of the land they’re on, learn the traditional place names and treat it with more respect are simple ways we can improve workplaces for First Nations people and make it a more inclusive industry to work in.

Improving representation in transport

First Nations people remain underrepresented in transport. A lot of young First Nations people can feel that they’re not wanted in the industry because of their culture or the colour of their skin. I really want us to get the message out there that this isn’t the case. We need to demonstrate that we’re an inclusive industry and we treat each other equally. It’s also a great space for First Nations people because of all the opportunities to work closely on and with the land. While we have strong bonds to family, and don’t always want roles that keep us away from our community, there are so many other roles available in the industry.

Communicating this message should start early on. Getting out to schools and TAFEs will show people that there are so many different opportunities in transport. I know that when I was growing up, I had no idea of the roles available. You’ve got the people driving the trucks, but there’s also those loading the trucks and in the office organising everything. We need to give kids the bigger picture; show them what’s possible for both boys and girls from all different backgrounds.

A more inclusive approach to hiring

Experience is important, but the right attitude, a willingness to learn and a different perspective go a long way. To achieve more diversity in the industry, we need to look at our approach to hiring. We need to give people a chance to gain the experience and learn on the job, or we’ll never expand the pool of talent available to businesses.

My own story is proof. I was a single mother of four with no experience in transport. Once my boys were at school, I started a TAFE course in Community Services, which fitted in with school hours. I ended up finding a role with an employment agency, helping people who were looking for work. I could really relate to them and empathise with what they were going through. From there, I got a job in a shearing shed, which led to my role at Kelvin Baxter Transport through a recommendation from my boss.

My experience proves that everyone deserves an opportunity and has something valuable to offer. I thought no one would employ me as a single mother with limited experience. But I knew my strengths. I’ve got a range of skills and a unique perspective from all those different roles, which I can apply to my role now at Kelvin Baxter.

That’s why I believe we need to show more empathy when selecting drivers. If someone is willing to have a go, and they’re a quick learner, I think they should be given an opportunity. That’s how you get in the door.

Taking the first step

Change can be daunting, and it’s easy to just keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. But we don’t need to transform the whole industry in one go – it starts in your own workplace. First Nations people have been fighting to prove our land ownership for so long, we know the importance of small steps. Even though we wish change would happen overnight, it doesn’t. Small steps are better than no steps.

For me, I have to start here, at Kelvin Baxter Transport. That branches out to our drivers, and to our community. If every business builds a more inclusive culture, that’s how you get industry-wide change.

You just have to start and know that you can make a difference.

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