Checks and Balances

Wade Lewis has over 20 years in the heavy vehicle industry and is on a mission to encourage more drivers from regional areas.

Wade Lewis has had a diverse career in road transport in roles including driver, business owner, operations manager, logistics manager, and trainer.

Currently Wade owns and operates a small fleet of tippers which carry mostly grain and stock feed, as well as Tamworth Car Carrying.

Prime Mover: You serve in a number of voluntary roles. What are they about?
Wade Lewis: I do a lot of work with industry peak bodies. I’ve been President of the Livestock, Bulk and Rural Carriers Association (LBRCA) since May 2022. I’m also a member of the NSW Freight Transport Advisory Council and NSW Livestock Loading Scheme Training Steering Committee. The LBRCA and the two businesses take up most of my time, and I also do some project work as a subject matter expert in the field of logistics and stakeholder engagement in the agriculture sector.

PM: Programs such as the LBRCA Young Driver of the Year award encourage young people to take up driving. Is there more to be done?
WL: It is well documented that driver shortages and licence pathways continue to be peak challenges for the heavy vehicle industry. We have an ageing workforce, and our industry is not attracting drivers, particularly young people. Current licencing rules are a barrier to entry and the challenge is heightened in regional and rural areas where we have no opportunity as industry participants to employ school leavers.

PM: An NSW parliamentary inquiry into road transport released its findings in February but the suggested reforms are likely to take at least two years to implement. Will it make a difference?
WL: That’s something we’ve worked on for a long time and finally we’ve got a parliamentary inquiry that has actually made some recommendations. At least we’ve got something now that’s going to hold some departments accountable. This process will have to go through parliament but at least we’ve got a recommendation from the Inquiry which has formally recognised the issues we’ve been battling for decades. That’s very encouraging.

PM: You’ve long been a supporter of an apprenticeship program for drivers particularly in the livestock and rural transport industries. Is this now getting any more traction?
WL: The situation is no one wants to take the risk at the end of the day. There is a tangible program we put forward that will quite obviously work, and they agree it will work, but no one in any type of power will take the risk to say ‘yes’ and that is because the jurisdictions are so risk adverse they don’t want to take that next step, which is strange because we in the industry are saying ‘we’re taking the risk not you’.

PM: Are there any precedents which demonstrate such a system is working?
WL: The stakeholders directly in the industry don’t have an issue with the proposal. But no one has wanted to take the risk politically and say, ‘yes I’ve allowed an under-skilled person to go on the road’. But then we point them to the Army which has 19-year-olds driving under supervision. So how is it OK for the Army, which still has to operate under the same road laws, to get around the system? It’s because they can get the time to perform the initial training and have a trainee pathway with forklifts and other light vehicles.

Wade Lewis at the LRBCA annual event 2024.
Wade on stage at the LRBCA annual event this year. Prime Creative Media.

PM: What’s your proposal?
WL: In our proposal we’re providing the checks and balances and the CEO or the owner of the business is directly responsible for the trainee. We’re also saying the trainees have to get into the most technologically advanced vehicles that are available on the road with all the camera technology, with the data available, any time for auditing. There’s not much more we can do to make it an easier process.

PM: How many hours of instruction are you advocating for?
WL: AusRoads supports 16 hours, yet we’re saying 300 hours for a HC, then 200 hours for a B-double. That’s many times more hours than the government body says they want us to do. Yet no one will pick up on it.

PM: Have you widened the scope for potential participants?
WL: We’re happy now to have any entrant and we’ve conceded we don’t have to have a young person. That was one of the barriers for the bureaucrats, so let’s forget about anyone under 25, we’ll take on over-25s.

PM: Can you give me an example?
WL: I’ve got a former medical receptionist working for me and the young man is very bright. But hated working inside and wanted to be a truckie. He’s driving a rigid in the car carrying business and is an excellent driver, an excellent fatigue manager and all the rest of it, but I can’t put him in a semi for another 12 months. This kid could go tomorrow. Contrast that with the big increase of after- school childcare centres where a P plater can put up to 12 kids into a people mover van and drive them around town. What skills does that P plater have? With 12 little lives in there and all the distractions that come with it.

PM: Are you able to get a minister on board who is going to push through the reforms rather than waiting for every other state and territory to implement the apprenticeship scheme?
WL: I really don’t think we are going to see it until there is absolutely a stoppage of product deliveries because we just don’t have those people there to drive the trucks. So instead of being proactive right now, they are going to be reactive when that happens. The problem is truck driving is not recognised as a profession so we can’t have a traineeship or indentured apprenticeship. Remember, the trainee doesn’t get paid any less money, we’re not asking anything from the government, and there’s no funding from the government. I did the math with three different operators at the LBRCA conference and it’s going to cost the business owner between $50,000 and $60,000 to get a new driver through the pathway we’re proposing.

PM: That’s a huge investment.
WL: Now that we can’t get that person indentured to the company providing the training, we can literally help them get their licence today and they could leave tomorrow. In my businesses I have nothing under a HC, and in regional areas they don’t have many heavy rigids or light rigids. There’s only a few operators who even have a forklift in their business so we can’t do the traditional progression from forklift to rigid to HC to B-double. That is why an on-the-job training pathway that we are proposing allows more opportunity for people to enter our great industry.

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