Gender bias continues to hamper recruitment drive

The industry’s at it again. Recently, WA’s peak trucking body – the Western Roads Federation wrote to Federal Transport Minister Catherine King seeking to have truck driving included on the Priority Skills Migration List.

In 2013, the ATA sent a similar but unsuccessful request to the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency with a recommendation that “heavy vehicle drivers be placed on the Skilled Occupation List to enable foreign drivers to apply for 457 visas, to help the industry to meet the growing freight task.”

Whilst there’s no disputing the existence of critical driver shortages – particularly in WA, the issue’s hardly a new one with 2013 forecasts predicting nearly half the then truck driver workforce being over 65 by 2026 and high-level retirement likely post 2016.

Despite countless industry think tanks – now, in 2022, seemingly little’s been achieved to alleviate driver shortages, particularly when it comes to female recruitment.

The question then must be asked: Why is the industry’s go-to international drivers, rather than women who, in 2022 comprise 50-plus per cent of the Australian population? 

The answers, which look and sound awfully like gender bias, can be found in the pages of the ATA’s 2013 submission which reached conclusions we’d expect to see a century earlier in 1913.

Here, the author determined that “not only could the perception of a ‘boys’ club’ culture be off-putting to women, but the lifestyle inherent with heavy vehicle driving could be at odds with some women’s ambitions to socialise and have families.”

On the flip side, current estimates show the cost of bringing international drivers in under Temporary Skill Shortage Visas to be negligible; hence it’s widespread appeal throughout the sector. This cheap-is-best ideology is in line with the ATA’s 2013 submission conclusion citing “cost” as the over-riding factor when considering driver recruitment options.

To address safety concerns many Australian truckies have regarding international drivers, the WRF in its recent ministerial proposal put forward a raft of training proposals. Interestingly, the most critical – the ability to competently speak and comprehend English – was glaringly absent.   

In order to correctly complete/comply with the legal requirements of the National Work Diary for example, a 4 out of 5 English language skill rating is required and fundamental to safe driving, vehicle compliance and safe use of equipment. 

From a safety perspective, when it comes to international drivers, it appears the promised checks and balances simply don’t exist.

The time has come for the industry to take responsibility for training and replenishing diminishing driver stocks; to begin stepping-up and supporting female-friendly recruitment practices, creating a robust grow-your-own culture that recognises the readily available pool of Australian women seeking to pursue trucking careers. 

Women in Trucking Australia regularly fields calls from self-funded, inexperienced female truck drivers earning a living in other sectors, women unable to get a foot in the door of their chosen career. Gender bias continues to impact negatively on their efforts – a reality supported by countless stories of being overlooked at recruitment in favour of their male counterparts. 

In doing their bit, WiTA’s proposed “Foot in the Door” program – with an expected launch in late 2022, will focus on bridging the license-to-employment gap by engaging with forward-thinking industry and training stakeholders to drive improved outcomes nationally for women with this fit-for-purpose training initiative. 

Utilising state, territory and commonwealth funding, it’s hoped this recruitment pathway will finally enable women to take control of their trucking careers. Just how long the industry continues to pretend women can’t drive trucks however is a question we all need to think long and hard about.

  • Lyndal Denny is CEO, Women in Trucking Australia (WiTA)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend