19 November 2021 ·

The Great Australian Driver Shortage

Road

It’s no secret Australia has come to rely heavily on the transport industry over the last two years. With lockdowns across the country, and consumer shopping behaviour having an online focus, great strain has been put on the transport industry to help keep the country moving…literally.

However, the industry is facing a problem that could affect the country if not addressed quickly – a driver shortage.

Without an increase in driver numbers, and younger qualified drivers coming up through the ranks in the next few years, Australia could be facing serious transport and logistics supply issues.

The current state of the transport and logistics industry

According to the report ‘Truck Driver Workforce Shortages: The Perfect Storm’ commissioned by Labourforce (February 2020), there are likely to be 127,000 job openings for truck divers over the next five years. This doesn’t include the tens of thousands of vacancies for managers, schedulers, and support staff needed to keep the country moving.

In the last three years, permanent job vacancies within the trucking industry have grown from 75.1% to 81.4%.

When you look closer at the transport and logistics industry, there are two factors that are impacting the future growth of the industry:

An ageing workforce

  1. Lack of diversity
  2. Ageing Workforce

In the ‘Truck Driver Workforce Shortages: The Perfect Storm’ report, there are two interesting facts:

  • Less than 15% of drivers are under the age of 30
  • The average age of a truck driver is between 45 and 54

With the combination of a limited supply of experienced drivers in the pipeline, and older drivers approaching retirement age or looking to exit the industry, the outlook isn’t promising.

While the statement “We just need to attract younger drivers” may seem like the simple solution, it’s more difficult than you’d expect. For many trades, school leavers are the next generation of skilled workers to come through the ranks.

However, if the transport and logistics industry is to compete against other more popular trades for their interest (like electrical and construction), this needs to be addressed.  

Recently, there’s been discussion around developing an apprenticeship program for truck drivers, similar to those for electricians, plumbers, and construction. It aims to bring an element of professionalism to the industry some feel has been lacking.  

In a paper developed by the Transport and Logistics Reference Committee (IRC), they discuss the plans to create an apprenticeship. It’s a paper the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) welcomes with open arms.

“It’s no secret that operators around the country have difficulty recruiting truck drivers,” ATA Chair David Smith said.

“There is a shortage of new starters in the trucking industry, and it’s due to the image of the industry and the image of truck driving as a career.”

“By improving the professionalism of the industry, strengthening driver training would make driving a more attractive career.” he said.

While an apprenticeship program is just one avenue, it’s clear there’s need for greater training standards and courses across the country, and states like WA and VIC are leading the way.

WA has been trialling the Heavy Vehicle Driving Operations Skill Set program in Bunbury, which has seen 33 students find jobs from its initial group, while in the metropolitan course 100 students have been placed in jobs since April. The success of this program has resulted in the full support and backing of the WA government.

While in Victoria the VTA (Victoria Transport Association) has the backing of the local government for the Driver Delivery program. The program entails two levels of training - an “industry-ready” course in Heavy Rigid (synchromesh) vehicles and Heavy Combination (automatic) vehicles.

The VTA has partnered with Armstrongs Driver Education (and selected major transport operators) to deliver a 9-day course that provides new drivers of heavy vehicles:

  • Training
  • Mentoring
  • Behind-The-Wheel experience

Upon completion of the course, students will be considered eligible for employment as new entrant drivers.

Diversity among drivers

It’s fair to say the transport and logistics industry – especially truck driving – is a male dominated environment, and has very limited appeal to women as a career.

While women make up 50% of the Australian workforce, 14% of those are in the transport industry, of which 3% are truck drivers. Yet there is an active push to get more women behind the wheels of trucks, and once again, WA and VIC are leading the charge in addressing the driver shortage issue.

The Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls (PHHG) program aims to provide women with the training, knowledge, and encouragement to become the next generation of truck drivers. What’s even more interesting is the PHHG’s mission statement:

“To avert projected national heavy vehicle driver shortages through the provision of 160-hour professional development opportunities to newly licensed drivers from across Australia as a stepping-stone to the commencement of road transport sector traineeships.”

Starting back in 2014, the program has been trying to help stop the projected driver shortage by giving women the necessary training, skills, and experience to jump behind the wheel of a heavy truck and keep the country moving.

As for VIC it’s Wodonga TAFE (in partnership with Volvo and Transport Women Australia Limited (TWAL)) that’s doing its part with the pilot program Women Driving Transport Careers. The program is designed to bridge the gap between licensing standards and professional industry requirements, giving women the opportunity to enter the workforce as truck drivers.

What’s next?

The first step to any problem is admitting and recognising there is one, which the transport industry has done, while also trying to find solutions to address the situation. But is there anything more they can do?

The driver shortage problem in Australia is not lost on truck manufacturers. Many have taken it upon themselves to introduce new solutions to help resolve it.

Hino’s contribution is the offer of true automatic transmission is across our light (300 Series), medium (500 Series) and now heavy-duty range of trucks, with the recent introduction of the all-new 700 Series. This makes it easier for businesses to get people behind the wheel quicker than ever before.

Along with enhanced safety features generally found in passenger vehicles, and improved ergonomics for greater comfort, making the transition from car to truck will be almost natural.

Want to share your own experience?

Have you, or someone you know recently begun their journey to become a truck driver, or are considering it as a career?  We’d love to hear about your experience. What made you start thinking about truck driving as a career? What’s your experience been like? What have been some of the biggest obstacles to overcome on your journey?

Let us know about your experience in the comments section of our Facebook post here.