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WA peak body hatches plan to solve chronic driver shortage

The Western Roads Federation (WRF) isn’t relying solely on the relaxing of border restrictions as the best fix for the chronic driver shortage in Western Australia.

The peak body is instead taking a long-term, post-pandemic view on steps it needs to take to entice newcomers behind the wheel of a B-double or road train, and to keep them there.

With unanimous support from its members and other key stakeholders, the WRF has just released a draft blueprint for a structured industry workforce development scheme.

Program architect Barry Davis, former national HR manager for WA Freight Group and Road Trains of Australia, said that one of the most important elements within that framework is the establishment of a recognised pathway for an existing HR licence holder to become an employable HC/MC driver after just five weeks of training.

At present, Heavy Rigid licence holders have to wait for a year before they can upgrade, but by that stage many still don’t have the skills that employers need, or they lose interest and leave the industry altogether, well before advancement.

The proposed WRF system would see 12 existing HR licence-holders at a time go through the intensive program, which is a mix of classroom theory and practical training on everything from load restraint to carrying out servicing and maintenance and coupling trailers.

Week five of the training also includes the option of securing a forklift licence and traffic management training when transporting dangerous goods.

driver shortage
Barry Davis.

Davis is also hopeful of enlisting the help of few retired truckies to act as mentors for the new recruits before graduation.

“We’re not going to do much different than what the likes of Toll, Linfox and Centurian are already doing with their own training,” he said.

“This is going to be over and above that and allow us to feed more [drivers] in.

“The most important thing is to get 12 at a time through the system and select the right candidates who have a good attitude.”

With an estimated shortfall of drivers in the state numbering at least 200, Davis said it’s vital that the industry take action now.

“There is a huge shortage in the Pilbara. I know of two contractors there who are about to get a contract worth 60 to 80 drivers and they haven’t got any.

“There is a fair bit of pressure on to get this [training] up and running.

“If we didn’t have Covid it wouldn’t be as bad, but we still need to go through this process and get drivers for longevity.”

Davis said the course would be funded by existing federal government wage subsidies and initially be based in Perth, with the first intake expected to begin their training this month.

All going well, the course is aiming to have 12 trainees start in the system every three weeks, building to a projected 120 graduates within six months.

He added that Main Roads Western Australia has already looked at the concept favourably and are on board with the rubber stamping to fast-track the timeframe.

Davis said the early reaction to the program has been very encouraging and is taking heart from the backing of would-be employers in the state.

At a recent meeting of transport bosses chaired by WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle, every hand in the room shot up when asked for a show of support.

“I just had contact yesterday from a guy who drives a quad tipper on a mine site. He hasn’t got his HR, MC or HC, but has a licence signed off by the mine manager. There are quite a few like that.

“We can feed them in and give them the opportunity.

“Of the first 12 recruited, I know I’ve got eight jobs for them, and it hasn’t even started yet.”

Davis has already had success with a WA program training those with even less experience, with an input into the new driver training program at the South Regional TAFE in Collie, backed by the WRF, RTO Keens Truck Driver Training and the state government.

The first intake has already gone through the free five-week course designed to give participants eight units of competency from the Certificate 111 in Driver Operations and a leg up to complete the full qualification.

“Hopefully we can then take some of those graduates and put them through this system,” said Davis.

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