Better late than never: that seems to be the consensus from industry to the news that we may finally be getting a formal apprenticeship pathway for new heavy vehicle drivers.
Australian Industry Standards (AIS), a government-funded independent not-for-profit organisation that provides technical and administrative support, to develop vocational qualifications, got the ball rolling late last month with the release of a consultation paper.
Submissions answering seven key questions identified in the paper by the Transport and Logistics Industry Reference Committee, a group of industry professionals tasked with overseeing the discussion phase, were due to close on October 15.
AIS CEO Paul Walsh tells us that it’s vital that the industry show as much support as possible to enable the committee to take its early findings to the next level with state and territory jurisdictions.
Vehement backer Colin Dyne, a truckie for more than 40 years who is now training new recruits in WA, has been “banging the drum” for the apprenticeship pathway for drivers for more than 10 years.
“The industry is fraught with a lot of complications and problems – licensing being on eof them – but I think this is a huge positive and huge step forward,” said Dyne, who runs Dynamic Driver Training.
“Myself, and a lot of guys involved in the industry for any length of years, have seen this as a necessary for a long time.
“Everyone’s been up their arse in crocodiles, but everyone forgot to drain the swamp.
“Most road train and B-double drivers are senior men and women, but in few years’ time they are going to be looking at retiring and we do not have an up-and-coming generation with the skillset and experience to be able to take that over and run with it.”
Walsh, a former truckie himself, believes a lack of a cohesive voice amongst the industry on the issue, and an over-reliance on migration has kept the brakes on any progress on the apprenticeship front until now.
But the wide-spread driver shortage in most sectors, exacerbated by Covid pandemic restrictions, is clearly one of the major factors now helping to mitigate long-standing pockets of resistance.
“Until now we’ve found other ways to cope with the shortage without having to actually do something,” said Walsh.
“In the last 12 months we’ve seen the likes of the VTA, Western Roads Federation and the Tasmanian Transport Association try to address this in a different way by creating that pipeline of workers coming through that are getting some form of formal training. This just takes this to the next level.”
How it would work
The discussion paper proposes two distinct apprenticeship pathways of two to three years: one for those already working in the industry, regardless of whether they have a current truck licence, and the other for school leavers.
“The big step is addressing the pathway from school,” adds Walsh.
“The issue has always been that if you leave school at 17 or 18 you can’t jump straight into this; you’ve got a gap and that creates a pattern of going off and trying something else, and then they don’t come back for a while.
“This creates an opportunity to provide a Cert 2 pathway, that could potentially be out of school, or while they are still at school.
There are other considerations of course before this gets off the ground, such as the supervision requirements for both licences and unlicenced apprentices, and how an apprentice program would work in tandem with current state/territory licensing laws.
In the discussion paper, the committee says this conversation could include a shift to competency-based rather than the time/age-based approach currently employed to licence progression.
Walsh says there also needs to be conversations with insurance companies around how a new apprenticeship training model might help positively alter the risk profile of younger heavy vehicle drivers, and lower the associated premiums accordingly.
“There are a lot of little hurdles still to clear, but I don’t think there is a showstopper,” said Walsh.
“If there had been one, the committee would not have come forward.
“For me, it’s more about not letting the small things get in the way of what is really a good idea.
“I think everyone has always believed that there is a need for something to professionalise the industry, to make it more attractive to people to come in, and not a destination of last resort, but an actual genuine career option.”
What happens next
Walsh says the biggest factor at this stage of the scheme is for the trucking industry to show its support for the scheme.
After the submissions close on October 15 – visit australianindustrystandards.org.au to have your say and to find out more – the committee will collate the feedback at the end of the month and develop a further response from there.
If there is enough positivity around a way forward, says Walsh, the next step is for the committee to make a recommendation for the qualification to become an apprenticeship with the various states and territories, which are each responsible for governance.
“We’ve already started to talk to them about what this may mean,” he said.
“But the biggest thing in any of these conversations is that demonstration of industry support is critical.
“If you can show there is genuine support from industry, then you have a very strong likelihood of this going ahead.
“This would be ready to come off the blocks by early 2022 if all the support is right and everything goes well.”
The Australian Trucking Association is just one of the peak bodies to throw its support behind the concept.
“The ATA has long called for stronger and more comprehensive truck driver licensing and training,” said ATA chair David Smith.
“There is a significant skills shortage that must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
Smith also thanked Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport, Scott Buchholz, for his commitment to industry training and this issue.
With 25 years of industry experience himself, Buchholz says he knows first-hand the effect that professionalising the industry would have for the transport sector and the people in it.
“This is a process that started some time ago, as a result of industry feedback and we’ve worked closely and consulted with industry stakeholders,” Buchholz tells Big Rigs.
“There are a number of steps in front of us, which we are progressing. We’ll work with the states to progress the proposal for a formal, driver apprenticeship.
“Let me be very clear, I realise that introducing apprenticeships and professionalising the industry through a formal recognise skilled trade apprenticeship, will not address the driver shortages of today.
“However, this measure will go a long way in attracting the next generation of men and women transport and logistic operators to our industry, as we seek to provide a framework that the skills of operators are formally recognised and transferable.”