As the struggle to find drivers continues, this WA company is doing its bit to train up youngsters and give them their start in the industry.
A third generation family owned and operated business, Penns Cartage Contractors was started by Gary Penn in 1969.
In its early days, there were just a couple of small Bedford trucks, used to deliver furniture.
The Kalgoorlie based operation is today managed by his son Jayson Penn, who runs a diverse fleet, carting everything from general freight and bulk fuel, to oversize and livestock.
Like many transport companies, Jayson says the struggle to find good drivers is real. “We have about 15 trucks of our own and three permanent subbies. At one stage we had 19 trucks, but we had to scale back because it was becoming so difficult to get staff – so I gave some of the work and contracts away. I could put 10 drivers on tomorrow if I could get them,” Jayson explained.
Penns Cartage Contractors currently employs 12 drivers, along with six people in the workshop and five office staff.
“Up to about 1997, the company was predominantly pastoral based, carting for all the stations around the Goldfields, then we started getting out of that. We still have cattle crates but got rid of our sheep crates. We’ve moved more into low loaders and fuel haulage, predominantly based around mine sites, as well as some cattle transport.”
Back in 1997, Penns Cartage Contractors also bought its first low loader. “That side of the business took off from there. Now we have four 50 tonne floats, an 80 metre float, and we just took delivery of a 100 tonne float before Christmas. Before that we were sub-contracting some of the bigger equipment moves out – now we’re able to do it ourselves.”
The trucks predominantly travel around the Goldfields, as well as into Perth, along with into the Granites Gold Mine, over the border in the Northern Territory.
Now 54 years of age, Jayson says he’s been working in the family business since he was just 13; taking the reins as director in 2020.
“When I turned 15, I did a diesel mechanic apprenticeship at another company but was always working in the yard with my father on the weekends and after work,” he said.
Now he’s hoping to help train up the next generation. His eldest son Zachery runs the workshop, along with doing some of the driving; his daughter Brittany works in the office; and his younger son Frazer is a company driver.
“I’ve put my youngest son Frazer on the 100 tonne float, he’s predominantly on that all the time now,” said Jayson, who also revealed it’s been a struggle to get more drivers coming through the door.
“People aren’t coming through the system anymore. We just don’t get anyone. There used to be more people coming over from the east coast, but in the last few years it’s dried up. It’s not just us, there are other companies shutting down because they just can’t find people. And it’s not only transport either, even shops and mechanical businesses are closing because they can’t get workers,” Jayson revealed.
“We want to be able to train young people up and give them a go, finding the right people and getting them to start in the yard, then work their way up.”
And that’s exactly what Jayson did when he was approached by Aaron Morley. Now 27, he came into the business four years ago after relocating from the east.
“He was a salesman and knew absolutely nothing about trucks at all. When he moved here from Tasmania, he was looking for a job, so we trained him up. He started out working in the yard, and then he got his licence, and then upgraded it. He’s great now – he’s going really well and has the right attitude. Aaron is now on our 80-tonne float and can do anything, whether it’s flat tops, low-loaders or road trains.”
Adding to the problem of driver shortages, Jayson says, is the unwillingness of many transport operators to train young people up from scratch. “The trainer responsibility today is definitely a factor. Some of the major companies just aren’t putting their time into new people.
“The issue we have is that there’s no one coming through and the skills aren’t there, so we need to try and train people up.
“You need to go out and load stuff with them. Every day is something different. You teach them how to tie down, how to load and unload correctly. You need to spend time with them and put the effort in.”
Jayson’s brother Brendon Penn, who runs a crane business called Brendon Penn Crane Hire, is having the same issues with attracting and recruiting staff – and he’s taken a similar approach to Jayson. “My brother Brendon is doing the same thing on the crane side, by getting young people in and training them up.”