These adverse behaviours are negatively impacting training experiences

As WiTA’s “Foot in the Door” female driver training program moves into its second year, we’ve watched with growing concern the emergence of a number of adverse behaviours that continue to negatively impact the training experiences of female students. 

For decades, predominantly male trainers have trained predominantly male students – creating an environment more akin to a Saturday afternoon pub sesh with the boys. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests limited diversity in the heavy vehicle RTO space sees some organisations continuing to utilise 20th century training approaches rather ensuring staff complete critical gender diversity training.  

Recently, I fielded a call from a WiTA student who, having completed day one of her HC driver training, was left feeling unsupported, incompetent, and questioning why she’d even considered trucking as a career choice in the first place.

Like it or loath it, SA law allows C class drivers (on completion of a T.I.L.E. course) to sit for an HC licence.  

Not having set foot in a truck, our student was immediately directed out into freeway peak-hour traffic on a route that navigated a steep hill through numerous sets of lights in a semi-trailer. 

During this nightmare experience, the trainer constantly grabbed the wheel while chatting about personal family issues, how the truck suspension was interesting for female students with “big tits” and sharing his views that the women he most gets on well with are the ones happy to talk about “beer and dicks” – all this while playing with his phone. 

Students come from diverse backgrounds, have different training needs and learning styles and so require different teaching approaches.  

In an effort to demystify the dos and don’ts of working with women, the following intel is tendered as opportunities for improvement in the female heavy vehicle driver training space. 

The first sits around every trainer’s responsibility to determine their student’s level of experience and knowledge before modifying the training so their needs are individually addressed.  

 Women ask a LOT of questions. The more information you provide – the better.  Women are not risk-takers. They are cautious, thorough and like to understand a task thoroughly BEFORE they attempt it. 

If a student repeatedly asks the same question, they don’t understand your answer. Your job is to explain further – rather than respond with an eye roll.   

Women are extremely uncomfortable when you talk about dicks and tits. They are with you to learn about trucks and driving. Most aren’t interested in your personal life – preferring instead that 100 per cent of your attention be given to their training. 

Providing students with honest, positive feedback is critical. Sniggering is not considered positive feedback. Any misunderstandings are more likely the result of training gaps and lack of information – rather than student incompetency. 

Discussing driving routes and potential challenges BEFORE students leave the yard is critical. On the other hand, discussing other female students and sharing their personal information with current students is a major privacy breach.

Making assumptions about a student based on that student’s gender is an ideology best left in the 1950s where it belongs. In 21st century Australia, RTOs have two choices – embrace the opportunity to train women who have limited trucking experience or exclude a growing market and only work with students from a ‘hands-on’ background who require less effort to train. 

WiTA’s focus is to ensure our “Foot in the Door” students are trained in non-judgemental, supportive environments.  

We believe diversity and inclusion train-the-trainer programs are imperative to ensure RTOs provide respectful, safe and equitable training experiences for female students. 

At this point, I’d like to recognise and applaud all the professional HV driver-trainer entities we’ve had and continue to have the pleasure of working with.  

Driver training is the gateway to trucking careers for women, so let’s all work to ensure their introduction to the sector is one they can look back on with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

  • Lyndal Denny is the CEO of Women in Trucking Australia.

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