There are many big issues confronting the road freight industry over the next three to eight years including the adoption of renewable energy, fit for purpose road infrastructure and proportionate heavy vehicle laws to mention a few.
Underpinning these large-scale issues is a fact, that for many years to come, the trucks driving the length and breadth of the country require a driver in the seat.
Ask any operator what their number one day-to-day issue is, and for as long as I can remember, it is always the same answer, “Where can I find drivers?”
It is time there was an answer to give them. While the apprenticeship model currently being developed holds some promise, this will be a long-term solution. We need action right now to fill the ever-growing vacancies in the industry. We need competent, job-ready professionals to drive road freight well into the 21st century.
This is a multi-faceted issue and there are many factors inhibiting youth and new entrants getting newly licensed drivers into jobs. Firstly, the ability for employers to attract new entrants who identify the industry as a career of choice and secondly, the quality of training and no opportunity for a newly licensed driver to gain the necessary on-road experience.
Employers need evidence of on-road driving hours, and without providing an avenue for newly licensed drivers to obtain these, there will continue to be a long list of drivers not able to obtain employment which has led to a growing pool of potential drivers becoming disheartened and finding alternative employment avenues.
To prepare a licensed heavy vehicle driver as job ready for this industry, the classroom environment is necessary to attain the fundamental learnings required before getting behind the wheel and experiencing on-road and workplace-based instruction.
It is vital that instruction in a static environment be formalised on subjects including and not limited to:
- Rules and regulations
- Load restraint
- Dangerous goods
- Fatigue and safety management
- Industry environment
The key point of difference will be a valuable mentoring and coaching component to achieve on-road experience. It provides critical behind the wheel driving experience that must be undertaken to produce the calibre of drivers required by industry operators.
This would include completion of 160 hours of supervised driving with an experienced driving mentor at their place of employment. These verified hours would be completed over three months of attaining employment and verified as learner drivers do when attaining their probationary licence.
However, to achieve this, funding for this training must be directed into a mentoring wage supplement to support employers. This key barrier to employing newly licenced drivers must be addressed, and this wage supplement is vital to give employers more confidence to employ these drivers. Small to medium businesses who make up most of the road freight industry do not have the financial resources or capacity to allocate a driving mentor without it impacting productivity in their business.
A jobs ready program provides a solution to the long-term driver shortage. Early consultation with industry indicates overwhelming support from employers and will attract support from insurers.
Their only question is “When does it start?”
Gary Mahon is the CEO of the Queensland Trucking Association.