Rearview mirror isn’t the only one we need to look in

The ageing of Australia’s workforce is a whole-of-economy challenge, but it is particularly acute in the road transport sector.

A large-scale industry survey conducted in 2016 found the average age of a truck driver in Australia is 47, with more recent industry estimates putting that number closer to 50 years of age, with just 15 per cent of drivers estimated to be below the age of 30.

If not addressed, looming workforce shortages will lead to higher costs in the freight transport sector – and these will ultimately be reflected in higher prices paid for goods by consumers and businesses.

By extension, this means the industry needs to attract younger workers to its ranks.

But it is a mistake to think this will simply happen of its own accord. Some industry participants have noted that driving heavy vehicles is not seen as an attractive career choice, particularly for school leavers.

There is ample research available which indicates the millennial generation of workers is more mobile and more likely to change jobs and industries than any of their forebears.

A 2016 survey undertaken by Gallup noted that 21 per cent of millennials had left their job to do something else within the preceding 12 months – a figure three times higher than that for non-millennials.

More strikingly, the same research reported that six in ten millennials say they are open to new job opportunities outside their current organisation – again, far higher than figures reported for other cohorts.

On the face of it, this should be positive news for the heavy vehicle sector. However, the fact that younger workers are willing to take a look at other industries will only be of benefit if they like what they see.

The unfortunate reality is that the heavy vehicle sector suffers from a continuing perception problem around its ability to welcome female participants to its workforce, as well as those from diverse cultural backgrounds.

This is a considerable barrier to the attraction and retention of younger workers, who make their career choices (at least in part) on an organisation’s commitment to gender equity and diversity.

As well as dealing with diversity issues, the sector’s workforce must also address the fact that the increasing influence of technology in the operation of heavy vehicles will demand a broader range of skills than may have previously been applicable in the industry.

Although these efforts must be industry-led, there is certainly scope for governments to play a greater role in making certain the transport sector’s workforce is prepared for a changing world.

Many industry participants continue to note that the transport sector has not received appropriate levels of attention when it comes to skills and training support, especially in comparison to the hospitality, retail and human services sectors.

As part of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, the Commonwealth Government has undertaken to develop a new Transport Sector Skills Strategy, in partnership with industry.

In its pre-Budget submission to the Federal Government, ALC has emphasised that the development of this Strategy must take particular account of workforce shortages being experienced by the heavy vehicle sector, and that the Federal Government must prioritise an increase in training opportunities available to those wishing to enter its workforce.

This includes supporting education and awareness campaigns that combat stereotypes about the nature of the industry, and which prioritise the recruitment of new workforce participants from diverse backgrounds.

ALC has also called on the Federal Government to place a greater emphasis on the importance of enhanced mental health outcomes amongst industry participants.

Industry led programs such as Healthy Heads in Trucks and Sheds (the development of which is being led by Woolworths) exemplify a proactive approach in this area.

ALC has recommended that governments should provide greater levels of recognition and support to such industry-led initiatives where they exist.

Attracting a younger more diverse workforce for our heavy vehicle sector going forward will require a different approach to engaging potential recruits.

ALC is committed to playing its part by combating stereotypes about the industry and highlighting the impact technology and innovation are having and aligning these with the skills and ambitions of new workforce participants.

Kirk Coningham

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