Opinion

Lifting the driving standard of Victoria’s workforce

The transport industry routinely embraces innovation when it comes to changes in telematics, new safety technology and automation. So why are we so far behind when it comes to the basic issues of attracting and retaining a skilled workforce? 

At a time when many industries are facing declining demand, ours is fortunate enough to be experiencing some of the highest ever and our infrastructure is trying to keep pace. Throughout the country, there is an unprecedented pipeline of major transport infrastructure projects in order to support the nation’s burgeoning future freight needs. 

But this significant investment in infrastructure upgrades isn’t being matched by investment in the people that deliver those services on our roads. The road transport industry has for many decades struggled to attract and retain the heavy vehicle drivers of the future, and this will only continue in the absence of reform to heavy vehicle licencing and training. 

When we consider the fact that the average age of a truck driver in Australia is 57 and fewer than one in five are under the age of 30, it becomes clear that young people don’t see the industry as a rewarding career choice. With 20 per cent of drivers already at retirement age, we are increasingly exposed to a potential crisis that will have far reaching consequences. 

We need to address the core of this resourcing issue and not just come up with a band aid solution that incrementally grows the workforce at the expense of safety and skills. 

The current system of licencing does not produce the safety standards or skill levels to meet the expectations of the community and nor does it deliver a job-ready workforce for transport operators. 

Under the current time-based graduated system, a heavy vehicle license can be attained for approximately $1000 and just five hours of instruction with as little as 45 minutes driving time. This is all predicated on the assumption that the skills one needs to earn a regular driver’s license are transferable to heavy vehicles, which couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The result of this system is that heavy vehicle drivers entering the industry are permitted to drive on our roads with minimal time behind the wheel and with limited experience and understanding of the vehicles they are driving.   

The Victoria Transport Association (VTA) has developed a fully rounded training framework which delivers a safe and professional driver workforce that meets the expectations of transport operators and the wider community.

We know this framework is more than capable of reform because it is already being applied under a current, Victorian Government-funded program that delivers ’job ready’ drivers for the transport industry. 

This highly successful program was developed within the VTA with the assistance of road transport and logistics experts and includes elements of similar successful programs in both Canada and the United States. It now provides a tried and tested model for a competency based heavy vehicle driver training system. 

If this approach replaced the current system, it would build skill and safety into a mandated curriculum that delivers safe and professional drivers to the road transport industry. This would in turn develop a workforce that takes pride in its work and is offered a genuine career pathway with more opportunities and financial rewards. It also makes road transport more appealing to a younger and more diverse group of people as our next generation of truck drivers.

The proposed overhaul of licencing and training within the road transport industry would lead to significantly improved outcomes for an industry that is struggling to attract and maintain the right talent. The VTA proposal would see people as young as 18 trained to drive a heavy vehicle under an experience-based graduated system.

The VTA is advocating for these changes not because we want them, but because we need them. We simply cannot afford to continue under the current system until we reach breaking point. Our industry, the public who we share the roads, and our nation’s economy all deserve better.

Peter Anderson is CEO, Victorian Transport Association

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