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Occupational Health & Safety | Transport & Logistics

Truck Driver Skills Survey – identifying the need for a truck driver apprenticeship

23 Sep 2016, by Informa Insights


There are many key issues facing the heavy vehicle industry in Australia; compliance with NHVR requirements, driver fatigue management, route compliance, transport automation, technology implementation and driver training. It is the latter, along with the attraction of younger people into the aging workforce that is perhaps one of the most important topics facing the industry today. Eleze Drew, Industry Liaison Coordinator for TAFE NSW Industry Liaison Unit, and her team have recently undertaken the ‘Truck Driver Skills Survey’ examining this very topic. The Survey was an industry consultation which has now informed a proposal for a new qualification and apprenticeship specifically aimed at attracting young people to the transport industry.

Eleze comments on the Survey itself: “Following discussions, it quickly became evident we needed to more formally capture what the industry saw as critical skills required by their truck drivers and explore the concept of an apprenticeship. The Truck Driver Skills Survey focused on a ratings matrix of “Critical, High, Medium, and Low or Not required” assigned to six key skills areas including licencing, maintenance, safety, communication and customer service, loading cargo and clerical/administration skills. We circulated the survey through our network of industry associations and directly to transport operators across Australia.

We were really happy with the industry’s response and the quantitative and qualitative data the survey provided. 

Supported by industry data which identified that the industry has the second largest ageing workforce in the country, the need to attract new (and young) people to the industry has become a priority.

The concept of a truck driver apprenticeship was developed from discussions the TAFE NSW Transport and Logistics Industry Liaison Unit had with a number of transport operators across NSW. Support for this model of truck driver training was reinforced in the truck driver skills survey.”

When asked about the most striking outcomes from the Survey, Eleze responded: It will come as no surprise that the key skills rated as “high or critical” to the industry included pre-start trailer and vehicle checks, reverse heavy vehicle combinations, fatigue management and chain of responsibility, communicating effectively with customers and load and unload of goods. These were all ranked highly by the respondents.

The survey also provided an avenue for the industry to comment, with many supporting the need to professionalise the industry and provide pathways to attract young people. These were consistent themes in the survey responses. One particular respondent commented that a licence does not prove that someone can operate a heavy vehicle safely on the road. Licencing needs to take a ground-up approach where trainees start at the bottom and work their way through the different classes of vehicles. Others commented that the apprenticeship approach was imperative for the future success of the industry.

We want to encourage a professional approach to the sector and providing consistent, quality training across NSW (and Australia) is one way to achieve this.”

When it comes to attracting young people to the transport industry Eleze said that:There are a few stand out initiatives in place to attract young people to the transport industry, these include the Transport for NSW Green Light Day and the Queensland Government’s Insight to Industry initiatives. Another is the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association’s (LBCA) Young Truck Driver of the Year Awards. These are all aimed at attracting young people to transport. We can do more by opening up pathways for school leavers, increasing their awareness of jobs in the industry and providing entry points. This cannot be done without a number of stakeholders working together, including Career Advisors and Schools, the transport industry, governments and regulators.

It is well known young people cannot get a heavy vehicle driver’s licence until a few years out of school and this will continue to cause a drain of young people away from transport, as the industry struggles to compete for talent, when there are so many other industries with a ‘sexier’ professional image.

There is also an untapped talent pool of young women; women who would not normally consider a transport related role and this needs to change. Anecdotal industry feedback tells us that women make good truck drivers, as they tend to have a “gentler” approach to handling the big rigs. We need the industry and other stakeholders to encourage women to join the transport workforce. A great example of this is the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls, who have support from Volvo Australia Group, training women truck drivers for work in WA.”

We were interested to also know what Eleze would ask for if she was given 3 wishes to make the transport industry better:Wish 1 is increased funding to make our roads more accessible and safer for Heavy Vehicle drivers. Wish 2 is for the industry to improve its image and become a ‘sexy’ drawcard for young professionals. Wish 3 is that we are all 20 years younger to experience the exciting developments that are coming in automating the industry. “

Eleze will present a session on ‘5 Ways to Keep Your Wheels Turning’ on day 2 of the Chain of Responsibility and Heavy Vehicle Safety Conference in Sydney in November. She will provide a further insight into the Truck Driver Skills Survey, workforce planning and training and some golden nuggets on how to futureproof your business. Eleze said of the conference: “I am really looking forward to meeting delegates from the transport industry, expanding the network of transport operators to connect with, listening to their stories and getting them enthused about the need to attract young and new people to the transport industry. I am also very excited to share with them TAFE NSW’s approach to workforce planning and development solutions.”

If you are interested in learning more about the conference or registering to attend you can see more details here.


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