Opinion

It’s causing good drivers to leave and it’s a disgrace

If you’re reading this (and you’re in the industry), then you’ve probably heard about the “truck driver shortage” that’s currently plaguing the industry.

Look, I’ll be honest. There are hundreds of thousands of truck drivers out there. Many of them are good. Many of them are also willing and able to work when presented with the right opportunities.

But this is the truth. There is no shortage.

We as a society and an industry just don’t value truck drivers as much as we once did – and this is a downright national disgrace.

It is causing good drivers to leave the industry and find other work, and that is why we are struggling to find the best drivers to do the best work.

Australia’s economy relies incredibly heavily on transport and trucking.

The current “shortage” not only affects the efficiency of logistics but also highlights deeper societal issues which I’ll be brutally honest about. 

What is the state of the current driver shortage?

The shortage of truck drivers in Australia has reached a critical point.

There’s a significant gap between the demand for truck drivers and the number of qualified professionals ready, willing and able to fill these positions.

This gap has led to delays in deliveries, increased costs for businesses, and added pressure on existing drivers who are often overworked.

According to the National Skills Commission’s April 2022 spotlight, “Recruitment Difficulty for Truck Drivers”, the number of online job ads for truckies increased by 101 per cent from February 2020 to April 2022, compared with 59 per cent for all occupations.

However, the number of people employed as truckies has not increased at any meaningful level. 

Recruiters also reported a “recruitment difficulty” for hiring truck drivers, rising from 53 per cent in 2020-21 to 71 per cent in 2021-2022.

What’s causing the truck driver shortage?

Several factors are said to contribute to the ongoing truck driver shortage in Australia. Here are three of the ones I find most illuminating.

1.  Ageing population

Because Australia is getting older generally, it means many experienced truck drivers are nearing retirement age.

This ageing workforce has naturally contributed to the shortage of drivers, as there are not enough younger people entering the profession to fill the impending gaps.

The Department of Transport in Victoria projected that the rate of truck driver recruitment in the industry will need to increase by 150 per cent to account for the uptick in demand for road freight and to “replace retiring and/or ageing truck drivers”.

2. No clear way to become a driver out of school

Another critical factor contributing to the driver shortage is the lack of a clear pathway for individuals to enter the trucking industry after completing their education.

For many teenagers, it’s incredibly difficult to get your foot in the job in, say, a warehousing role. It’s also very difficult to get so much as a forklift licence.

Unlike some professions that offer structured educational and training programs, becoming a truck driver often lacks clarity and guidance.

This ultimately gets candidates tired of looking at a very early stage, potentially putting off a truck driving career for the rest of their lives.

3.  The job has a bad image

The truck driving profession suffers from a terrible image problem. 

Many people perceive truck driving as a tough, physically demanding job that is not conducive to a healthy work-life balance – and that’s often because, for a lot of drivers, it is.

This former truck driver recently commented on a post I made on LinkedIn about the issue: 

Image: Ryan Howison

These conditions have ultimately frightened a lot of people. And this has led to a lack of interest from younger generations and contributes to the overall shortage of drivers in the industry.

Changing this perception is crucial to attract a more diverse pool of talent into the industry.

Okay, but what’s REALLY causing the shortage?

While the above factors contribute to the driver shortage, there’s a deeper issue at play – the lack of respect and recognition for truck drivers within society and even among some employers.

Truck drivers play a vital role in keeping the economy moving, yet they often face disrespect, long hours, and challenging working conditions.

Society’s perception of truck drivers is downright wrong.

Many Australians see truckies as:

  the ‘peasants’ of society,

  unskilled labourers,

 glorified mailmen or mailwomen, and

 people who can’t do anything else.

This perception is not only inaccurate. It is hurtful and harmful. 

This lack of respect – unfortunately – translates into lower wages, inadequate benefits, and limited career advancement opportunities for drivers. 

It has also led to a surge of regulation, with incredibly strict rules on how drivers do their jobs, from traffic infringements to recording time in their logbook: 

So, how can we fix the driver shortage?

There is no one solution.

Addressing the truck driver shortage requires a multi-faceted approach.

It involves stakeholders across the industry and society as a whole.

Here are some key strategies to consider:

For schools: Show a clearer path to become a driver

Educational institutions from high schools and TAFEs to colleges and universities can play a crucial role in addressing the driver shortage by providing clearer pathways for students interested in pursuing a career in truck driving.

This includes things like:

• showcasing work experience opportunities,

• offering vocational training programs, and

• partnering with industry experts for hands-on experience.

This will all highlight the potential for career growth and stability in the trucking sector.

For recruiters: Make the job look more attractive & accessible

Recruitment efforts must focus on making the truck driving profession more attractive and accessible to a diverse range of candidates.

This includes promoting the benefits of a career in trucking, such as competitive wages, flexible schedules, and opportunities for advancement.

A business development manager in the industry had this to say on one of my posts:

Recruiters should also prioritise inclusivity and actively recruit women, Indigenous Australians and individuals from diverse backgrounds.

For managers: Treat drivers how you want to be treated

Effective management practices are essential for retaining and motivating truck drivers.

Managers should:

• prioritise driver safety (in line with their CoR obligations),

• provide adequate training and support, 

• ensure fair compensation and benefits, and

• actually treat drivers with respect.

Creating a positive work environment where drivers feel valued and respected can significantly reduce turnover rates and improve job satisfaction.

For society: Understand that drivers are fundamental to how you live

Truck drivers put food on your table.

Truck drivers deliver your mail.

Truck drivers transport your supplies across the map.

Truck drivers literally keep Australia moving, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Society as a whole needs to recognise and appreciate the critical role that truck drivers play in everyday life.

Encouraging a culture of respect and appreciation for drivers can help shift public perception and attract more individuals to the profession.

There is no ‘shortage’ problem. 

There is an ‘attitude’ problem.

Addressing Australia’s truck driver shortage requires a comprehensive approach that tackles both the immediate challenges, such as demographic shifts and educational barriers, and the deeper issues of respect and recognition within society and the industry.

It won’t be until we work together to promote the value of truck drivers and creating a more supportive and inclusive environment, that we can actually ensure a sustainable future for the transportation sector and the broader economy.

13 Comments

  1. And don’t forget the amount of rules and regulations that we have to endure from both our state and federal governments.
    Apparently if you drive a truck you cannot do overtime or it will cost you 3 times what you earn at least and I have yet to see COR get past the driver.
    All of which I got out of the industry because it was not worth the money and stress.

  2. To that I have to fully agree. Since I had enough with “attitudes” in 2017 I haven’t driven since and neither have I lost one point off my licence nor had to keep an eye on my mirrors for the red and blue lights looking for a revenue bonus.

  3. I as a MC driver with 50 years experince still have the pasion & will to continue in this industry. I am medically fit. I find it difficialt to find a position
    where I can be comfortable. I have spent my time giving to the industry days,even months away from my family.2x Daughters grown up with familys, and they dont even reconise me. So now nearing my twilight years I just want to go home every night to my 2x beloved poodles..I have over 50 years living in the cab of a truck,& trucks with no bunks.i would be happy to do the so called long distance if I was able to take my best friends with me,but every one says you cant have pets
    What a load of shit
    1 had apet with me for 15 years.never missed market, never late or never did not make destination. CONTENTEMENT, is an amazing feeling .and keeps you on the straight & narrow.

  4. Thank you for highlighting the real reasons behind the exodus from the industry, I have long thought the same in my 13 years as a truck driver. It really is a shame because many drivers I know actually enjoy driving for a living but the stigma attached to people who drive professionally keeping this country moving is taking its toll. We are considered lazy, uneducated, unhealthy, dumb, grubby and far worse by people who have no idea what it’s like to be a driver.

    Employers need to change.
    I’m 38, still happily married and a father of two. I believe there has been a real generational shift in terms of parenting that need to be taken into account, for instance what is expected now compared to when my dad was raising me. Dad’s these days are largely far more hands on than even one generation ago and we want to be available for the odd school pick up/drop off.

    Work life balance.
    Also no disrespect to my fellow drivers but who actually wants to be driving for 14 hours a day? I sure as heck don’t and I am a firm believer that we should have more say in how many hours we work a day for we are the ones doing the work. I say stuff driving to ‘the book’ that isn’t a life.

    Unfortunately there are some amongst us who a partly to blame. We know the ones, they tail gate, throw rubbish out the window, talk blatantly on the phone while driving and it’s there unprofessional drivers whom are also partly to blame for the lack of respect for the industry.

    On the whole I’ve had a great time driving, I’ve seen a whole lot of the country I otherwise wouldn’t and have made some great lifelong friends along the way.

    However it’s due to this lack of respect, hours of work, professionalism and dignity that has driven me off the road and onto a mine site where I still drive (A doubles) but now have a set finish time and most importantly consistent days off.

  5. What also needs to be done is recognition for going above and beyond your normal duties .. eg chain an axle up to get the freight moving actually look at the fault and help diagnose it .. rather than having and attitude of its not my job .
    A lot of this just comes back to a simple thank you from the owners or ceo of the company .
    In 15 years of driving it has happened to me once and every body thought that ceo was a waste of space..

  6. driver 14yrs experience….keep going to interviews for driving jobs, everything is going well till they find out I’m 57 seem 57 is the new 67 I’m apparently now too old to work in the industry (WTF) how does that work in this age where the industry iis screaming out for quality workers? …I think interviewers need to take a long hard look at themselves to see wat they really want for the company cos good drivers my age are getting sidelined in favour of your (wet behind the ears) drivers with very little experience but having said that new drivers should have some mentoring as they go……..(just my 2 cents worth)

  7. True story and the other big issue is proper training for drivers. This in my experience has much room for improvement. Many years ago I used to road test up to 10 drivers per week. Most couldn’t shift gears in a road ranger let alone a 20 sp spider. Many never had a clue how to hook up or unhook trailers yet they just recently got an MC Licence. Paid the money and Licence given without any ability to drive let alone drive safely and efficiently. OMG

  8. Do away with the recording devices in the cab, eg, Gardian and in cab cameras. The job was never easy to start with, but this stuff makes it almost intolerable. NHVR must also shoulder a fair amount of the blame as well. What other industry gets fined for working overtime?, or is hounded day and night by Law enforcement agencies?.

  9. I have been driving trucks since I was 20 years old I am now 62. In the 40 odd years I have been in the industry the wages have gone up very little in the mid 80’s I think I was on about 13$ a hour for a 40 hr week with overtime paid after that, Fast forward to 2024 I am receiving $28 p/h flat rate and I have to pay my own tax out of that, no overtime rates, no sick or holiday pay n no superannuation paid, so I have to work a minimum of 60 hours per week just to get a wage ican at least survive on. The work is the same as 40 years ago but the wages are not comparable with other industries for far easier jobs, not to mention the amount of stress we are put under by the company’s we work for and dealing with the ever increasing traffic and bad drivers on the road
    There is no better or any other job I would do than being a truck driver, the sense of freedom it gives you out on the open highways, but if I had my time over, knowing what I do now I don’t think I would have gotten into the industry.

  10. The Day we stopped young boys going with their fathers was the beginning of the end.they had the passion to be with their fathers and do what they loved but we allowed the red tape to destroy the the passions of the young future of our industry.

  11. Very well said Ryan!
    I’ve been thinking of writing something along the same lines…reading your article was like playing back a transcript of my weekly “tell anyone that cares” rant.
    We need more chaps like yourself on the various peak body advisory committees.

    Another thing I’ll add is that large truck companies and authorities have deliberately “dumbed down” the industry with drivers reduced to steering wheel attendants and encouraged not to touch, but to call the hotline.
    This would be fine if those same trucking companies were truly on top of the maintenance of their plant. If equipment was serviced by properly supervised/trained and resourced technicians that could ensure plant was 100%.
    Be we all know this isn’t the case. Companies with maintenance management certification trucks and trailers are being rushed through services in minutes and work is patched, put of or missed all together.
    The almighty dollar rules so due to market pressures, we now have drivers with no mechanical aptitude and fleet management
    cut to the absolute basics.

    Recipe for disaster

    1. Ron you have hit the nail on the head, the transport industry saw an increased decline when NHVR came on the scene. Now before anyone gets on their high horse and discredits me I have been in the transport industry since the early 70s and run a handful of trucks EAST/WEST for most of that time. NHVR act like drivers and owner drivers are criminals. My two boys wouldn’t get into the industry predominantly because of the persecution, end of story. The governments pathetic fix is import non English speaking, some non licensed international drivers. Because of the now huge safety concerns more normal Aussie drivers are giving the industry away. Betcha Big Rigs will delete my post again.

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