A new licensing system to fight the skills shortage

With Australia’s governments committing to a national heavy vehicle regulator, the ATA believes now is the time to take a serious look at recruitment and training in the trucking industry and put in place a system that will ensure we have the drivers the industry will need into the future.

Finding new drivers is one of the biggest issues facing the trucking industry. Attracting new drivers to the industry, as well as keeping those already employed, is proving harder and harder to achieve.

Despite the size of the task, the industry needs to tackle this problem – because if we don’t, it’s only going to get more difficult as drivers continue to age.

Research conducted by ATA member, the Transport Workers’ Union, and the Transport and Logistics Centre has found the average age of truck drivers in Australia is 43 years old. That compares to an average of 39 years across all occupations.

And unless we make a significant effort to bring in new, younger workers, the industry will continue to struggle with an ageing workforce.

Statistics from the Victorian Department of Transport show that 32 per cent of the drivers who are behind the wheel today will be over 70 by 2026. Losing almost a third of our current drivers and not replacing them with younger ones would be devastating for the industry.

The ATA believes the best way to encourage young people into our industry is to show them that truck driving is a career, not just a job of last resort.

We need to show them a modern truck driver is responsible for five or six hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment plus the load and that truck driving requires both skill and training.
However, with the current licensing system we can’t do that. It’s stuck in the days of the goat-track Hume.

The main problem with the current system is that it’s graded. You can’t get a rigid licence until you’ve held a car licence for one or two years. You then have to wait another year until you can apply for a semi-trailer licence.

The flaw in the system is that driver shortages are not in the heavy rigid licence classes. A driver who can’t get a job with a heavy rigid licence isn’t going to wait around for a year until they qualify to drive a semi-trailer. They are likely to walk away from the industry.

It’s important to emphasise that the waiting periods don’t contribute to safety. At present, there is no requirement for drivers to use their skills during the waiting period. They just have to sit and wait.

The ATA proposes to establish an enhanced licensing standard, which would address these issues.

The proposal was developed by our Skills and Workforce Committee, which is chaired by the president of the Transport Forum of Western Australia, Derek Nathan.

Under our plan, drivers would be able to advance more quickly through the graduated licensing system if they undertook enhanced competency based training and assessment, and then demonstrated a history of safe driving on-the-job in the relevant heavy vehicle class.

For example, heavy rigid licence holders currently have to wait 12 months before they can apply for a semitrailer (heavy combination) licence. Under our proposal, a driver would be able to advance to the next class by:

  • holding their HR licence for six months (half the time);
  • completing enhanced TAFE or RTO training and assessment in driving semitrailers, inspecting vehicles and trailers and planning and navigating routes.
  • recording on-the-job driving for a specified period once licensed.

The existing graduated licensing system would continue to be available. The addition of the enhanced licensing standard, however, would enable the industry to attract, train and keep heavy vehicle drivers with enhanced skills.

The standard would encourage more drivers to earn vocational qualifications aligned to driving operations, which would contribute to road safety and the professional standing of the industry.

Stuart St Clair


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