Typically, women have been underrepresented in transport yet as the industry grows and embraces change, businesses are breaking barriers and welcoming a more diverse workforce. After all, bringing in fresh minds and new perspectives helps fix age-old challenges, drives innovation and makes everyone safer, more efficient and compliant.
Nobody embodies these values more than Lindsay Australia’s Safety, People and Culture Manager, Melissa Strong. Following her most recent win of the QTA’s Trucking Woman of the Year award, we sat down and had a chat with Melissa about her experience in transport and how others can follow her example.
Q: Before we get started, tell us a little bit about your role and team at Lindsay Australia?
I’ve been working with Lindsay Australia for the past ten years, since 2008, at the Brisbane office. I was the first HR manager they’d ever had, before I started there wasn’t an HR department at all. Now Lindsay Australia has combined its safety and HR teams to create the Safety, People and Culture team. There’s five of us in the team and we’re responsible for a range of operations including HR, recruitment, staff management, safety, accreditation and more.
Before this role, I spent 11 years with Sydney transport company Roadmaster. I started off in an admin role and slowly moved into HR as the business evolved.
Q: What first attracted you to the transport industry?
I sort of fell into it, my original plan was to be a travel agent when I left high school. I went to business college to study travel, then moved to Sydney and got a job with McCafferty Coaches. This introduced me to the world of transport in the travel space. Eventually an opportunity came up to work with a transport company and I jumped on it. The type of work, the people and the variety of the job gave me a lot of opportunities. I started out doing data entry, but as other opportunities arose, I got to try new things and that turned me towards HR.
I love HR from a transport perspective because you can influence positive change. The possibilities are truly endless.
Q: What do you like best about working in transport?
It allows me to provide a service to the community and lets me deal with people from all different positions and areas. You’re not just working out of one office, Lindsay Australia operates in over 35 sites, so you get to talk to people from all kinds of backgrounds.
The work I do and the opportunities it’s provided allows me to influence people and roll out change effectively. It’s quite a small industry and it operates on very low margins. It’s a tight-knit community where everyone sticks together. We don’t just see people as our customers or employees, it’s a true partnership. It’s something that’s very Australian and a key part of working in the industry.
Q: How important is it to have diversity across the industry?
It’s very important. I think diversity can be misinterpreted, where people think it’s about fulfilling quotas. But what’s important to remember is that people from all kinds of backgrounds think differently. As the industry changes and evolves, with new and different technologies, it’s essential to bring in those new perspectives. It lets our business navigate the evolving climate more effectively and helps us stay competitive.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges of being a woman in transport?
I think the biggest challenge for female drivers is a lack of facilities. While we have great technology that make it easier for people to drive trucks, not having essential infrastructure in place makes it difficult for smaller businesses to attract women.
For example, as the industry develops new rest stops and driver quarters, we discovered many of the existing ones only have one set of showers. It’s those little things you don’t think about that are holding women back from entering the industry.
Q: Given that trucking is experiencing a driver shortage, does Lindsay Australia have any programs in place to attract new and diverse talent to the industry?
We do a mixture of things at Lindsay Australia to help with this. We look at the type of work we have available and try to accommodate our workforce as much as possible. For example, when it comes time to do rosters, we plan out routes that allow our drivers to get home early, so they can have more time with their families. Having that extra flexibility means the role of a driver is a more attractive one. Updating the facilities is also key – we look at the equipment and ensure that it’s modern and up-to-code.
One of the major challenges with the driver shortage is getting past restrictions in insurance and licenses and having the role recognised as a profession. For example, when we hire a mechanic apprentice, we get them straight out of school and forge a pathway for them. When drivers get to the age where they have their B-double license and are insured to operate a heavy vehicle, quite often they’ve gone and found another career. We do everything we can to help drivers get past these barriers but it’s challenging.
We have five female drivers at Lindsay Australia. We don’t get many applications from women but whenever we do, we always see how we can accommodate them and give them an opportunity.
Q: Should the government be doing more to help acquire new talent?
I think it’s very important that governments do more, and that technology becomes a bigger part of the industry. As the workforce changes, we need to be able to look at things differently. We need to look at the type of work they can do and how technology factors into the industry, and there needs to be more training. All these things are important ways to bring in new people to transport.
Q: What can the industry do to get women involved? What can individual companies do to diversify their workforce?
I think its human nature that we become creatures of habit. In the past we always had a certain type of person or structure of completing operations. Traditionally operational staff got their start by driving trucks. But being open to change and bringing in new people or giving people the opportunity to try different roles is essential for a successful business.
The industry could also do a better job at promoting the benefits of working in transport. Drivers can make a good living, there are flexible working hours and you get to see the country side - there’s so many positives.
Q: You were recently awarded QTA’s Trucking Woman of the Year. How important is it to have these kinds of systems in place to recognise women in the industry?
It’s wonderful to get nominated, let alone win. To have your peers respect you enough and think enough of you to put you forward, it’s a very humbling experience.
Acknowledging women in the industry lets the wider community see a different side of transport and what they do to recognise their own. It’s also important internally, as it lets other strive for something more, to think “this is something I could do too”.
In an industry that can be very isolating, if there’s anything I can do to make someone else’s pathway or progression easier, I’ll do everything I can to help.
Q: Technology is playing a bigger role in transport, are there any emerging technologies that Lindsay are using or looking to implement?
Technology is vital. As our business grows and matures and the need to stay competitive becomes greater, it’s important that we’re investing in all different types of technology. We are committed to investing in emerging technologies and are always looking into the next big thing. For example, we’re currenting trialling some new tech from Seeing Machines to assist with driver fatigue. By measuring and tracking a driver’s head position and eye closure, we can accurately monitor fatigue as it occurs. It also helps our drivers stay alert by vibrating their seats and setting off audio alarms. It’s been a real eye-opener for us and we’re looking to roll out the trial throughout the rest of the fleet.
Another thing that’s top of mind is making sure we use the technology correctly. All the data is there - it’s how we use it that’s important. By looking at job tracking, including dispatch times and driver performance, we can keep a better eye on compliance and utilisation, and improve the wellbeing of our fleet.
Q: Are there any particular technologies that businesses should be considering?
Any kind of vehicle tracking is essential. I think it’s important to make it mandatory across the industry as it helps to make the industry safer for everyone. From there it opens up the opportunity to implement many other technologies, like electronic work diaries, fatigue monitoring and real-time alerts. This helps operations staff manage drivers without bothering them while on the road and working across remote areas. We’re very committed to improving wherever we can with technology.
Q: Do you have any advice for women getting their start in transport?
It’s a great industry. There’s so much opportunity and if you’re looking to make a start on your career in transport then it’s time to put yourself forward. This industry is such an integral part of the Australian landscape, people sometimes forget where they got the milk for their coffee every morning. I encourage women to have a look into the roles available and see what a career in transport can offer them.