Careers & Training, Features

P-plater helps pioneer new driver training program

Although he has no family connection with trucking, Caleb Austin-Gell, 20, was sold on a career as a truckie from the moment he spotted his first road train, and sat transfixed by every trucking show on TV. 

So dedicated to his end-goal was Austin-Gell that while still at school he’d often work up until 2-3am at his first job for a furniture removal company in Wacol, go to class, return again for the afternoon shifts, before coming back for more in the weekends.

“I originally got my MR licence because I just wanted to basically get into driving as soon as possible and the only vehicles that were at my other company were MR-rated vehicles,” said Austin-Gell, now 20.

“As soon as I was eligible to get my HC, I went straight for it.”

But because of his age at the time – 19 – no one was willing to give Austin-Gell his big break.

“I started applying for several different companies and every company came back with the same response: because of my age they can’t hire me, or they won’t let me drive.

“Blenners was the only company to come back with a positive note to inform me that they were able to give me a chance.”

Austin-Gel started with Blenners at its busy Brisbane depot on August 23, and it’s been a dream come true in every way.

While working for the furniture removal company he’d do a lot of driving up to Cairns, and all along that route all he kept seeing was the big, bright new shiny rigs with the distinctive Blenners Transport yellow livery. 

“It’s always been my dream to not only drive for a big company, but also drive Kenworths, K200s, or T909s,” he said.

“I could see that Blenners looked after their equipment, and I wanted to work for a company that looked after their equipment and their workers as well.”

With no experience at all in the world of refrigerated transport, he admits that his first days at Blenners was a step learning curve. 

But Blenners teamed him up with experienced local driver Richard Brew to help Austin-Gell learn the ropes.

“He was super helpful with learning – and also extremely funny – and it was just a friendly environment,” said Austin-Gell.

“You learn from your mistakes but at the same time the guys are there to help you.”

By day four of the training partnership, Austin-Gell was feeling confident of going solo, but was more than happy to keep the training wheels on for the full week.

“I wanted to make sure that I knew everything because once you’re out there, not only are you driving vehicles but you’re also looking after people’s food.

“So, I wanted to make sure I could do it all properly and do it all right.”

With the training wheels well and truly discarded, Austin-Gell is now driving solo in a road ranger Kenworth T350, which he asked for in order to get more experience in a manual under his belt.

“The other company I was with would always put me in an auto, but I don’t learn much more by doing that than what I already know.

“I want to go that one step bigger so in the next coming months I’ll be soon doing more training so hopefully at the start of next year I’ll upgrade to my MC.”

Austin-Gell says he was more than happy to take the P-plater pathway too.

“I’m not one to wait. I don’t like waiting. As soon as I can go for something, I’ll go for it.

“When I heard that I was eligible to get my rigid licence and then eligible to get my HC, all whilst I’m on my green Ps, it really motivated.

“The look on people’s faces when they see a green P-plater driving a semi, it makes me happy because it can show that the young generation can still drive trucks, if you’re responsible, obviously.”

Les and Judy Blennerhassett.

David Mackay, Blenners Brisbane-based training and recruitment officer, was confident that Austin-Gell would be an invaluable addition to the driving roster, once he got the sign-off from Blenners director Les Blennerhassett.

“Les gave us the benefit of the doubt. He said, ‘Let’s give it a go, I just need a report on how it went, and he needs to be with a more senior driver for a few days so we can observe his driving attributes, as well as getting his inductions into the different processes that we do, and the various locations where we deliver’.”

A few days later, Mackay was thrilled to report back to Blennerhassett how successful his punt was on the new recruit.

“Caleb successfully delivered and received from the following locations: Lineage, ALM, Pacific National Rail Head, Coles, Woolworths, to name a few,” Mackay wrote in his report.

“He does not shy away from difficult delivery locations and enjoys the challenge. 

“Caleb has shown maturity beyond his years, a dedication to his duties and represents the business with a professional persona. I have discussed with him; future plans and he is looking for long term employment with Blenners Transport and is very appreciate of the opportunity. 

“I highly recommend Caleb as a Blenners Transport team member.”

In the same report to Blennerhassett, Brisbane-based HR manager Rachel Montague-Thompson also praised the initiative and hopes the successful on-boarding of Austin-Gell into the Blenners team can pave the way for other youngsters to follow.

She says a young mechanic in the Blenners workshop, whose dad is a driver, has also now put his hand up to drive as well.

“It’s really refreshing to see because we know what’s happening with the number of jobs that are available to the number of people that are available,” said Montague-Thompson.

“The industry is not what it used to be; we do have to think differently.

“This shows the industry that it can be done. 

“All it took was for Caleb to be with a driver for five or six days.”

Montague-Thompson says she can understand some companies’ hesitancy in taking on younger drivers, both on the score of the insurance concerns and the fear some may even jump ship to rivals after receiving training.

“But if you start looking a little bit differently and put in the time and investment now, it’s got to be a positive in the long run.

“Behaviour breeds behaviour. We bring people in, they see that we take pride in our trucks, they see that we take pride in doing certain things, then people will add to the culture and that becomes infectious.”

Austin-Gell, who has since graduated from the P-plate to his open licence, is hoping his story and big break with Blenners will inspire other youngsters to follow his example.

“Don’t hold back,” is the message he wants to convey as he counts down the clock on his six-month probation and what he hopes will now be a long-term driving role with Blenners Transport.

“If you have a dream, go for it,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter how young you are, just do you, and go for it.”

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