Golden chance missed for training reform

Training and education have always been hot button issues for the freight and logistics industry, with the safety of our workforces and workplaces, along with that of the communities we service, often in the spotlight because of the dangerous nature of transport work.

Training is also a major factor in alleviating the impacts of labour shortages, which the broader community is now all-too-familiar with due to Covid. Of course, labour shortages are nothing new for freight operators, with our ageing workforce and difficulty attracting young people to the industry both issues we have grappled with for many years. The VTA has forcefully advocated for heavy vehicle licencing reform that would enhance driver training, and at the same time create a career pathway for people as young as 18 to operate a heavy vehicle.

Regrettably, a golden opportunity for training reform in the transport sector was missed recently, with the national cabinet not proceeding with proposed forklift licencing changes that would have increased training and reduced the age for forklift drivers to obtain a licence to under 18. While New Zealand and Australian driver license matters were referred to the National Cabinet Infrastructure and Transport Reform Committee for consideration, forklift changes were shelved.

The proposal is similar to a licencing model the VTA and other peak industry groups have been pushing for some time to attract young people to a well-paid career as a professional transport worker. It would have dramatically increased our national pool of qualified and competent forklift operators, helping to alleviate labour shortages that are rife at warehouses and distribution centres.

The decision was widely criticised as insular and city-centric, with prominent Melbourne broadcaster Neil Mitchell highlighting how safety-conscious Germany trains 16-year-olds to operate forklifts, and forklift licences – and jobs – being available to 15-year-olds in New Zealand.

As I said to Mitchell on 3AW, if you look at decisions to licence young people to operate certain types of heavy equipment at face value, some criticism is understandable. But if you understand the depth of these decisions in terms of ensuring individuals are trained, and have the attitude correct in the application of learned skills, then they are welcome in our workforce.

The same principals should apply to training and licencing 18-year-olds to drive heavy vehicles.

Our heavy vehicle licencing rules were written for a different generation and have passed their use by date. We’ve been advocating for a new approach that recognises intense, hands-on practical training before licencing that would enable competent young people to be licenced to operate a heavy vehicle safely, and reward them with a well-paid career as a professional transport worker.

The current system discriminates against drivers that are more than capable of operating higher classifications of heavy vehicles but cannot obtain a licence because they haven’t met the current time-based criteria.

For our industry to meet the growing freight task we must urgently change the system to attract young people to our profession. If we don’t, delays and shortages we have experienced during Covid will just continue to get worse.

Victoria and other states and territories have been awaiting another drawn out review of the National Heavy Vehicle Driver Competency Framework (NHVDCF) by Austroads before committing to reform. Action is needed now.

Our licencing system has been in a state of perpetual review for the last ten years with responsibility seemingly handballed between the various bureaucracies.

Meanwhile, our industry is in crisis and ultimately consumers will suffer through higher prices, delivery time blow-outs and supply shortages. We cannot wait a moment longer for reform that will increase driver training and skills and addresses the driver shortages that are crippling operators.

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