The business case for increased numbers of female heavy vehicle drivers is clear, with current schools of thought recognising increased profitability and productivity, safer roads and an easing of current driver shortages.
Given so many US trends permeate Australian consumer culture, recent figures released by US trucking tech firm Cloudtrucks showing a massive 68 per cent increase in the number of female truck drivers in the US between 2010 and 2019 augers well for Australian women.
According to the IMF, 2023 will see Australia become the world’s 12th largest economy. Alarmingly, despite this predicted robust economic performance, the road transport sector begins the year staring down the barrel of an ageing driver workforce, a burgeoning freight task and critically depleted driver stocks.
In this difficult climate, Women in Trucking Australia continue to field daily calls from employers desperate to keep their wheels turning – employers praying that somewhere we have a warehouse filled with off-the-shelf experienced female drivers.
The good news is that nationally, there are – in fact – countless numbers of licensed female truck drivers. The not so good news is that gender bias has precluded most from getting that elusive foot in the door – forcing them to put their heavy vehicle driving plans on the backburner and find work in other sectors.
Now, we’ve reached a tipping point – an interesting evolutionary point in time where employers are finally recognising women as the panacea to the industry’s greatest challenge in 21st century Australia – driver shortages. At the same time, we have inexperienced, licensed women out there wanting trucking careers.
Despite limited research on female interest in trucking careers, one particularly compelling data source is the WiTA Facebook page – one of the fastest growing social media platforms in the sector. In less than three years, the site has garnered 1 new follower every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
With female workforce participation rates sitting at just 1.6 per cent, it’s interesting to note in January 2023 that the site’s 46,000 followers show a 44 per cent female/55 per cent male gender split – a clear indication that contrary to current industry viewpoints, under-representation of female drivers is definitely not one of attraction.
Driver shortages are a whole of industry issue that require a whole of industry response and at WiTA, we’re delighted employers are now seriously considering what needs to be done to attract, recruit and retain greater numbers of women into trucking careers.
Many are now committed to providing robust training programs to develop female driver capacity. In doing our bit, WiTA will continue to work with stakeholders to create female connections, opportunities and momentum – in addition to providing advice on the introduction of the internal cultural shifts necessary to ensure companies are well prepared for gender diverse workplaces.
In Q1 this year, WiTA will launch its highly anticipated ‘Foot in the Door’ pilot program funded through the NHVR’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative, supported by the Australian Government. This unique training and recruitment initiative will link 50 inexperienced, female drivers with industry employers.
Post project evaluation and report findings will considerably expand Australian female heavy vehicle driver literature – helping inform future policy and opening up new conversations on how the sector can better advance work opportunities for women pursuing driving careers.
As we embark on this new year, Australian women will continue to look forward to a time and an industry where they’re no longer constrained by stereotypes and gender bias, and WiTA will continue to look at what needs to be done, and by whom, to recruit, train and retain more Australian women as female heavy vehicle drivers.