Driver shortage top of agenda at industry roundtable

The driver shortage needs to be tackled on a number of fronts, the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) told a ministerial industry roundtable in Sydney today.

Federal Transport Minister Catherine King convenened the discussion group to canvass road transport views on skills shortages, regulatory roadblocks and what needs to occur to assist the move to net zero.

It is a forerunner to the federal government’s eagerly-anticipated Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra on September 1-2.

“We’ll tell the meeting that the current shortage of qualified drivers is one of the road transport industry’s most pressing problems – not only in terms of quantity but also in quality,” said NatRoad CEO Warren Clark.

“It’s most acute in regional areas, is intensifying and isn’t limited to drivers, with diesel mechanics in even shorter supply.”

Clark said NatRoad supports the use of skilled migration to tackle shortages in the labour market in the short term, but accompanied by testing of those skills in Australian conditions, prior to licensing.

“It’s been a goal for us for truck licensing not only to be harmonised across all states and territories but better aligned with the training system,” Clark said.

NatRoad supports fast-tracking an apprenticeship for heavy vehicle drivers.

“Requiring more competence at the initial stages of recruitment will add value rather than act as a barrier to more young people joining the industry,” Clark said.

“The Commonwealth has put an apprenticeship on the table; we need a commitment by the States and Territories to a competency-based licence system that is integrated with the training system.”

NatRoad says the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) reform process needs to be re-started in earnest, with removal of disincentives to drivers entering or remaining in the industry made a priority.

“NatRoad has called loudly for the abolition of petty offences that are perceived to be ‘revenue raising’ or of nuisance value but unrelated to controlling the risk of fatigue,” Clark said.

“The current rules mean you can be fatigued and still be compliant, but if you breach a petty rule you get a fine.”

Clark said NatRoad also supports the concept of an industry campaign to enhance perceptions of our industry and attract more women, who currently make up an estimated 3-4 per cent of drivers.

Queensland Trucking Association CEO Gary Mahon was also at the Sydney roundtable and told members it was an excellent opportunity for the association’s perspective to be included in the federal government response to the ever increasing labour shortages.

“The economy relies on the confidence of investors, operators, manufacturers, agriculture and many others to attract, develop, train and retain heavy vehicle drivers in particular who are essential to the road freight task,” said Mahon.

“This pre-summit roundtable initiative of Minister King is critical to the future viability of the road freight industry, and we both welcome the initiative by the Albanese Government and stand well prepared to advocate for our members on vital decisions that need to be made to ensure the future security of the supply chain and viability of our communities.”

Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia CEO Todd Hacking also told his members that he was looking forward to attending today’s forum that will help inform the Jobs and Skills Summit.

“We have been engaging with government extensively on these issues,” Hacking said. “Including reiterating how vital our industry is to Australia’s resilience and sovereignty – a key focus from the Labor Party’s election campaign.

“We hope that the government will follow through on its promises to turn these high-level meetings into tangible actions; not just long-term strategies and well-meaning statements of intent.

“That includes skilled migration, which is one crucial pathway that needs urgent action.

“When we are invited to participate, government asks us what we are doing as an industry to help ourselves; what are our strategies to recruit, train and retain people from across all parts of the community.”

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