How To Get A Foot In Driver's Door

The road to a driver's licence is clear but using that licence to start a career behind the wheel is less exact.

Weekend Post Cairns, by Debra Bela, 1 November 2014

Inexperience is a common barrier for many workers pursuing driver roles but there are ways they can get a foot in the door.

Training providers say industry needs to reassess its focus on driving experience when hiring new recruits.

But workers also need to be prepared to start at the bottom and work their way up, rather than wanting to jump into a big truck on the first day after obtaining their medium rigid (MR) driving licence.

With a median age of 55 years for bus and coach drivers and 47 years for truck drivers, and the Department of Employment saying 14,000 new truck drivers will be needed to meet industry demand by November, 2018, attracting new recruits is a top priority.

"If you've been handling a light vehicle delivery van around the city, that's a great start," Australian Trucking Association chief executive Stuart St Clair says.

"Then you can slowly work your way up in different trucks.

"It's a good career and people can be proud of the job they do."

For those starting out in the industry, Stuart says to be flexible and ready to start at the bottom.

"Knock on doors. (Ask) 'Can I come and do something for you?'," he says.

"Make yourself valuable and known to people, even if it's only talking to the people at the front desk.

"Every single person in an operation has the same level of importance, just different duties."

Truck drivers lead Australia's driving workforce, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics counting 163,600.

Bus and coach drivers are next, followed by chauffeurs and taxi drivers, delivery/courier drivers and train and tram drivers.

Attracting young people into a driving career is proving difficult across all sub-sectors.

Women are not convinced it is the career for them, making up only six per cent of drivers.

The shortage of drivers is so bad that to meet future industry demand, the Australian Trucking Association proposes including overseas drivers in the migration skilled occupation list for 457 work visa approvals.

In response to this request, the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls was formed in WA to boost the number of lady truckies. In that region, 15 per cent of drivers are women.

The Driver Education Centre of Australia (DECA) sees attracting more young people into driving careers as crucial to achieving the strong growth forecasts in the transport and logistics sector.

Together, DECA and the Victorian Trucking Association have worked on a trucking cadetship program to give young people experience behind the wheel so as to reduce their insurance premiums.

Insurance premiums typically are higher for more inexperienced drivers, making them a less attractive option for companies working with tight margins.

As an occupation, it is a licence - not a senior school certificate - that is the main qualification needed by drivers.

More than half of all truck drivers and 30 per cent of bus and coach drivers did not finish high school.

Alex Stojanovic, DECA's business facilitator for transport, says training for a heavy rigid (HR) licence is the most popular course at the national training centre but the licence alone is often not enough to get that first job.

"Experience is an issue," Alex says.

"They have a licence and need to go for a job but they need experience.

"How do they get experience if they can't get the job? It's a vicious circle. And a lot of the problem is in insurance (costs)."

He says new jobseekers may have luck with owneroperators.

"What they're wanting is not necessarily driver experience," he says.

"They are interested in the perspective of drivers, their knowledge of load restraint and work diaries, their selfesteem.

"They are the representatives of that company. If the guy gets out of the truck in shorts and thongs and swears like a trooper, that is the face of the company they are representing."

The Transport Workers' Union has reported that poor pay, long hours and tight deadlines are prohibiting younger Australians from joining the industry workforce.

But Stuart St Clair says pay and conditions depend on the times a driver wishes to work.

NUMBER CRUNCH

  • 92 per cent of truck drivers are full time compared with 67 per cent of bus drivers and 69 per cent of delivery drivers
  • Average salary ranges from $46,800 to $78,000 depending on the vehicle driven and the hours worked
  • 17,200 more drivers will be needed by 2018.

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