When Joseph John (JJ) Richards won a refuse and sanitary collection contract in the NSW town of Murwillumbah back in 1932 he never would have envisaged where the company would be in 2011 with a fleet of over 1200 trucks, more than 1600 employees and operations in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand.
The company continues to be owned and operated by the Richards family and offers a wide range of services including domestic garbage collection, recycling, green waste and hazardous and sanitary collection services for a host of clients including more than 60 local authorities throughout Eastern Australia plus an increasing range of commercial clients.
To keep pace with an ever changing world, particularly with increased environmental requirements, JJ Richards has been an extremely innovative company, developing much of its own equipment to ensure service is at the forefront of activities plus it has initiated an integrated management system linking quality, health and safety, and environmental care.
The role it plays in waste management has been well recognised by many awards, both for services and its people and it has partnered with governments to encourage skills development, environmental care and the highest OH&S practices possible. JJ Richards also has a partnership program with schools to ensure future employment in a number of communities.
Equipment operated by the company covers a diverse range of waste management services and includes skips and bins, wheelie and industrial bins, compactors, multi-lift units, liquid waste tankers and bulk haulage trucks. There is nothing in waste not addressed by the company and it continues to closely monitor requirements for today and well into the future.
Like all companies in transport it is acutely aware of the role people play in its business activities and the ongoing necessity to attract staff has seen it take a lead in attracting women to the industry. When the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, Mission Australia and Strategix Training Group partnered to assist women to pursue careers in the transport, logistics and supply chain industry through the Women Take the Wheel pilot program, a first in Australia, JJ Richards and Sons grasped the initiative and joined the scheme.
The Women Take the Wheel program won the Training Excellence accolades at the recent National Trucking Industry Awards presented at the Australian Trucking Association Convention, and it has been hailed a complete success with 19 participants placed in positions.
JJ Richards and Sons took the first graduates, working towards addressing the ongoing driver shortage problem exacerbated by the mining boom that sees people attracted to higher wages. Attracting and retaining drivers is a big issue in transport and logistics and the Women Take the Wheel program offers a number of benefits for both applicants and employers.
Business is offered an expanding range of job seekers applying for positions, increased retention and engagement of the female workforce, higher skills and qualification levels, attraction as an industry of choice in gender friendly employment, a pool of new industry entrants trained and licensed as road operators under a new Transition program and funding to up-skill female employees or have their existing skills recognised with a qualification.
Individuals find pathways into the transport, logistics and supply chain industry, funded skilling and licensing opportunities, formal networking with other women across the industry and access to gender friendly mentoring programs.
The initial advertisement placed by JJ Richards seeking applicants attracted more than 1200 responses for nine positions, showing the impact the pilot program has had on women interested in joining the workforce in transport and logistics.
“For people wanting a career in truck driving we will help them to achieve that,” says JJ Richards Director Phillip Richards. “To date it has been extremely successful, we have trained the first team of women and they have integrated well into operations.
“We initially became involved with the Transport Department Industry Capability Council training schemes when we engaged in the Adopt a School program in mid-2007. For quite a few years we had been interested in ways to encourage people to join our industry, looking at things like running our own classes, not just for drivers but encompassing a wide range of skills, but never had time to concentrate on it.
“Industry Capability Branch Director Louise Perram-Fisk addressed a Waste Contractors and Recyclers Association (WCRA) meeting to explain the Adopt a School program. It gave us the opportunity to become involved in a scheme to attract young people to our industry and the rest is history.
“Over 100 people have come to our company from that program and it has been successful to the point where quite a number have been employed and we are looking to continue that.
“When the Women Take the Wheel program came along we could see the benefits and it has worked and we will have to do more of it. One of the major areas of expertise of Queensland Transport’s Industry Capability Council team, headed by Louise and Marnie Tisot, is the ability to profile people and process them. And it has worked out quite well,” Phillip says.
The women have gone into roles at the Crestmead JJ Richards site working on the Logan City Council waste contract and according to David Colvin, Queensland Regional Manager, have settled in well.
“They are a very cohesive group and work well together. They are proud of what they are doing, it has given them a high level of self-confidence and they are very excited, the women have even had fridge magnets made with Women at the Wheel on them. You go into the depot and you see them everywhere,” David tells.
“There was a lot of scepticism originally, with people saying it would not work, but these people have proven it is exactly the opposite.”
This is echoed by Phillip Richards who indicates the program has not only worked well within the organisation but the women exhibit a great sense of pride coupled with loyalty to the company.
“I am stunned by the excitement and enthusiasm they exude as they show a desire to break the barriers. For all of those who said this would not work I thought, let’s give it a go and see what happens, and they have proved me right,” Phillip smiles.
“It is a success and we have not heard from the people who knocked it. It’s sure at some time they will say ‘I was wrong about that’ as it really is a rip-roaring success.”
One woman in the group had a medium rigid licence while the others had no commercial vehicle experience. JJ Richards takes pride in the fact it works on building a workforce based on aptitude as opposed to seeking skilled people.
“We will employ aptitude over attitude any day. You can accept the skills and aptitude but you can’t teach the attitude, so if a person has the attitude and the skills you have a great chance of success. We take the time to train people, after all it is good for the business and good for them, they appreciate it and give loyalty in a great career,” Phillip says.
He refers back to the Adopt A School program again, pointing out the kids involved have a great attitude to work and if you take the time to give them training, results can be achieved all round.
“The school system is locked in the 19th century concentrating on the three Rs. Not everyone will make it as a doctor or lawyer, but they may make an excellent diesel fitter,” Phillip says.
“Take them and show them how to cut a piece of steel and apply the mathematics to something real and suddenly they realise why they are learning geometry. They suddenly become interested in schoolwork and take a real look at what they can achieve through a little work.”
Back to the women taking on roles at JJ Richards and David Colvin says there have been no issues with men in the workplace.
“There have been no issues at all, everybody took them on board and gave time and effort to helping them settle in. They have all new equipment and have been taught to use our computerised run system, J Track, which is state of the art,” he says.
Every time JJ Richards and Sons wins a new contract, or is reappointed to services, new equipment is purchased, so all drivers are provided with modern trucks. At the time the fist women drivers joined, the company had been reappointed to the Logan City service and ten new drivers were required, which worked in nicely with the program.
Training for new people joining the company without the required licensing is around 12 to 13 weeks, involving gaining the appropriate heavy vehicle licence and learning the equipment, then being involved in further training, adding up to a total of approximately six months.
The Women Take the Wheel program will be expanded by the company due to growth in not only domestic refuse requirements but expansion of services. JJ Richards is constantly addressing environmental needs, firmly focussed on requirements heading to the future.
“One of the advantages is we look long term and invest in people with a business plan taking in the next 20 years. We look to employ people with very good attitudes and train them, train them and train them and move them around to places they fit best. It really is long term to ensure we provide the best in services and meet future requirements, that is one of the pluses of being a private company,” Phillip Richards says.
“We have a very flat management structure and develop a trust between our people and ourselves. Most of our people have been with us long term and our management team is very stable. Retention for us has never been a big deal.”
JJ Richards and Sons is a company at the forefront of strategic planning to meet ever-increasing environmental demands and continues to grow its service portfolio, with professional people and a professional approach to its increasingly important role in the business and residential community.