The transport industry is all too aware of the critical skills shortage disrupting operations across Australia. Understandably, the shortage was a trending topic at Australian Trucking Association’s recent Trucking Australia conference.
Consistent with the 2023 conference’s tag line, “sparking solutions, powered by you”, conference delegates were invited to have their say on the matter in the Creating the Industry’s Workforce Strategy session.
After seeing the success of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy, CEO of the Western Roads Federation, Cam Dumesny, proposes and leads the creation of a similar national workforce strategy for the transport industry.
Along with Industry Skills Australia director of implementation and capability, Klausch Schmidt, and Ainsleigh Bilato of the National Road Transport Museum, Dumesny directed delegates to consider four key questions: How do we attract more people from different backgrounds into the industry, how can we train our staff better, how can we retain staff in the industry and how can we improve the industry’s image?
Recognising that the ATA and its member associations do not have all the answers to inform a comprehensive solution, the responses and subsequent discussions of delegates were recorded for inclusion in the strategy.
Despite a 16 per cent increase in industry participation between 2021 and 2022, the demand for skilled workers continues to outweigh the current number of personnel active in the transport industry.
Attracting new personnel to tackle this gap is, therefore, a priority of the strategy. Schmidt suggested that the industry must be mindful of only addressing the short-term deficiencies, noting that it needs to consider what skills employers will require in a one-, three- and five-year timeframe.
For Schmidt, the answer to attracting new personnel lays in thinking outside the box, such as by exploring the opportunity for job sharing. This was echoed by delegates who spoke of a changing transport industry in which flexibility and a healthy work/life balance is possible, opening the industry to parents and employees in the mining industry who are accustomed to a FIFO roster.
Targeting a younger demographic through school visits and informed career counselling was proposed, allowing the industry to show school-leavers that a career can be found in transport, rather than an interim job.
Effective and ongoing training was recognised as a method of both attracting new personnel and retaining current personnel within the transport industry.
Western Australia’s Heavy Vehicle Driving Operations Skill Set was cited as a model that could be replicated by other states, in which trainees undergo both theoretical and hands-on driving instruction training to obtain a HR, HC or MC licence to produce confident and competent operators. Delegates indicated re-training and cross-training could aid in empowering and re-energising existing personnel.
While practical courses such as forklift and first aid training were popular suggestions, courses that focus on operator wellness were also proposed, such as financial management and mental health awareness.
Delegates were asked to consider how we can improve the industry’s image to both internal and external stakeholders, including by emphasising its rich heritage.
The outstanding technical developments in transport are most clear when juxtaposed against its rich history, telling the stories of the machines and operators that paved the way for those in the industry today.
Storytelling, from the contributions of transport operators to Australia’s most recognisable infrastructure to the role that migrants have long played in powering the industry, provides a channel through which the industry creates interest and pride in its work.
The use of social media to share these stories, particularly in a visual format, was recommended to reach a wider audience and, simultaneously, show the diversity that delegates have come to appreciate in the transport industry.