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The trucking industry is the lifeblood of any economy across the globe, though many businesses are finding that the once-thriving sector isn’t what it used to be. A well-documented shortage of drivers is continually making headlines as it one of the biggest problems for the future of Australia’s trucking industry.

The issue of finding qualified drivers in one of Australia’s largest industries has been looming for over a decade, but in recent years the shortage has come to a head. According to  Teletrac Navman’s 2019 Benchmark Report, 39 per cent of businesses surveyed claimed that they were currently experiencing a shortage of heavy vehicle drivers. 

Let’s look at the numbers behind the shortage Aussie fleet operators are currently facing.

The Driver Shortage

In Victoria alone, it’s estimated that  it will take 5,000 additional drivers to combat the state’s shortfalls. The shortage impacts remote areas most, as representatives from the Regional Development Australia (RDA) believe it will take over 1,000 new drivers to combat the scarcity of drivers across south-west Victoria and south-east South Australia.

This is a major concern across all sectors. Due to the vast distances between Australia’s major cities, road trains and big rigs are the primary method of transferring goods across the country.  According to a 2016 survey by Volvo Group, trucks are responsible for transporting around 75 per cent of Australia’s non-bulk domestic freight, and this amount is expected to double by 2030.

Bruce Anson, chair of RDA Barwon South West, touched upon the long-term effects of this problem, claiming that  “it’s hampering the economy, productivity and economic return for the area”. The truck driver drought will create on-going supply and demand issues, driving up the costs of the delivery for suppliers and in turn raising prices of everyday goods for the average consumer.

Factors Impacting The Shortage 

The biggest factor impeding the growth of the industry is the public image of driving trucks as a long-term career option.  “The industry provides amazing career prospects and is essential to Australia’s economic success, but it’s still overlooked by many,” said Melissa Taylor, Managing Director of Taylor’s Removals, “now, transport needs to step up a gear and accelerate change”.

In the same Volvo Group survey, 88 per cent said there was a negative image of Australia’s trucking industry. The most common factors affecting public perception include unsafe working conditions, the long hours that come along with the job and the sacrifices that it entails. 

Dominated by an ageing workforce, less than 15 per cent of the trucking industry are under the age of 30, and because the average age of a commercial truck driver is 53, many are retiring faster than younger drivers can be hired. 

The costs of getting insured, obtaining a heavy vehicle license and moving through the different license classes are among the biggest obstacles faced by younger drivers and are impeding the development of the industry, which is concerning considering the projected growth of domestic freight in the next decade.

Although the industry has strived to promote gender equality over recent years, trucking is still a male-dominated domain, with  women only making up around 5 per cent of the nation’s heavy-vehicle operators.  

Shifting Public Perceptions

While the trucking industry is considered a dangerous industry to work in, recent technological innovations and a sector-wide culture shift has placed more importance on the wellbeing of truck drivers than ever before. 

Technology such as Electronic Work Diaries (EWD) are designed to manage fatigue for drivers by recording both a driver’s work and rest time and automatically calculating it against fatigue rulesets, even in the most remote areas of the Australian outback, taking the guesswork out of ensuring their safety. The EWD alerts drivers to when a rest break is required, allowing them to plan ahead and stay rested to help focus on the job at hand. 

Similarly,  electronic pre-trip checklists ensure vital information is captured before any journey, to alert fleet operators of any new or potential faults before they become a serious risk. Advancements in tech are also impacting the way drivers prepare for the job. According to the same AIS forecast, nearly a third of businesses in the transport industry are currently looking into integrating Virtual Reality to improve OH&S training. 

Not only does all of this make trucking safer by automating workflow, but the  integration of this technology makes the sector more appealing to a new generation of tech-savvy drivers who expect the workforce to be on the cutting edge. 

Levelling The Playing Field

There have been many initiatives introduced to increase diversity in the trucking industry. In September last year, a ‘Future-Ready’ program was held at the 2018 NatRoad Annual Conference to discuss new ways of bringing in younger workers, while Victorian premier Daniel Andrews  pledged $4 million to cover the training of 800 new heavy vehicle operators

Many companies in the transport sector have introduced a gender equality policy into their recruitment process, while a partnership formed with Wodonga TAFE, Volvo Group Australia and Transport Women Australia Limited (TWAL) resulted in Women Driving Transport Careers, a new program designed to help women obtain their heavy vehicle license. 

Earlier this month, Teletrac Navman released a new whitepaper shedding light on the role of women in one of Australia’s largest industries. Titled  Driving Change: A Closer Look at Women in Transport, the report revealed a significant pay gap in the industry, and while the number of women entering the industry has grown, there’s still work to be done to curb discrimination. 

Since the release of the whitepaper, businesses across the country including Lindsay Australia, Russell Transport and Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls have all pledged to support the campaign and promote the role of women in the transport industry.

“Diversity is a core value at Teletrac Navman, and we’re proud to share the successes of women across our business and the wider industry,” said Nicole McCrory, Director of Human Resources, APAC at Teletrac Navman. “We hope that this report will raise awareness of the issues that women face every day and go some way towards changing our industry for the better.”

Retaining Your Current Fleet

Many businesses make hiring new drivers their top priority, but this can divert attention from retaining their current roster of truck drivers.

Last month, Teletrac Navman released its Telematics Benchmark Report for 2019, which found that while talent retention is low on many companies’ list of goals for the year, the primary tools for maintaining their current driver base are pay rises, equipment upgrades and appreciation programs. The report also noted an increase in recognition and rewards programs, which has risen by 13 per cent compared to last year.

While a lot is done to train up drivers before they get behind the wheel, there’s often little done to continually educate experienced drivers on road safety. Luckily, fleet managers can go the extra mile with fleet tracking software that incorporates driver scorecards. 

A driver scorecard uses data pulled from a vehicle’s telematics device to measure behaviours like speeding and harsh braking, notifying the driver in real-time when they do something unsafe. These scorecards can be used to show drivers how their individual performance compared to the overall performance average and the best driver in the fleet, putting a positive spin on the feedback process while adding some friendly competition amongst your fleet. You can also encourage drivers to increase their scorecard points through incentives like bonuses, giveaways and prizes.

While there’s still a long way to go before a definitive solution, the industry has already begun to act. By highlighting technological advancements, introducing new diversity policies and incentivising current drivers to stay in the sector, Australia’s trucking industry is shifting public perceptions while gearing up for future success.

 

Jason Davis is a Transport Solutions Specialist at Teletrac Navman.

Jason Davis otherwise known as JD, is part of the team of Transport Solutions Specialist at Teletrac Navman. Jason is based out of Brisbane and is a diversely experienced individual with a passion for Safety and Compliance within the Transport Industry. With over 25 years of experience, he has a wealth of knowledge based around NHVL, Workplace Health & Safety and operational risk. Jason is passionate about raising awareness to transport operators to ensure a safer road system for all users.