The most common current challenge expressed within the industry is the acute shortage of suitable people to fulfil the multiple and diverse roles required to keep freight moving across Australia.
During the Sydney CeMAT exhibition, which is aimed at the supply chain logistics and materials handling industries, Transport Women Australia Limited (TWAL) facilitates an informative presentation by several experts in associated fields with the focus on changing the dynamic to make more people aware of the broad range of career opportunities available.
Hosted by TWAL Director True Ross-Sawrey who is General Manager of Ross Transport, the panel includes Courtenay Skinner who is a driver with Ross Transport, Emma Andrew who is a senior program manager at Amazon, and Lauren Bourke who specialises in procurement, logistics and supply chain personnel at recruitment company TalentWeb.
Recent advances in technology are seen as only part of the answer to the shortage of suitable staff, especially in the warehousing and distribution sectors.
“There is a misconception that robotics will take over human positions, but we need to look from the perspective of repositioning our roles, not replacing them,” says Emma Andrew.
“AI and machine learning are really about improving customer experience, and a lot of roles will shift to areas such as data analytics and robotics technicians.”
In Emma’s estimation, the human aspect will still be required, but mainly to drive change management and customer experience.
“It’s more about repositioning what the workforce looks like with the introduction of more technology like AI and robotics,” says Lauren Bourke. “I think there is a bit of fear in the industry about jobs being replaced and people becoming redundant, whereas we need to look at how AI tech can actually support us to do the work.”
Courtenay Skinner says the flexibility which is possible in transport is what brought her to become a truck driver, which is a career she didn’t consider while growing up.
“When I was younger, I wanted to apply for the police force in the mounted division because I grew up riding horses,” she says.
“It was my uncle who got me into transport. I’d just come back from maternity leave, I was a boilermaker with council and what I was doing wasn’t really fitting in with my family life anymore, so he told me to go and get my truck licence and then he helped to get me a job.”
Addressing some of the many misconceptions about the industry has the potential to encourage more young people to give more consideration to a career in transport and logistics.
“When I started in logistics one of my previous employers said to me, ‘it’s just moving boxes’,” recalls Emma, whose position as Senior Program Manager at Amazon includes third party transport and the roll out of alcohol deliveries nationally.
Shifting the stigma that the jobs are merely doing the same thing repeatedly is an important early step in changing perceptions.
“It’s so much more than just moving boxes,” Emma says.
“It’s about analytical knowledge that we can put in to make decisions, how we can innovate to drive different customer experiences, how we can improve our speed, how are we going to build our driver pool, how are we going to help our drivers to create more convenient rosters, and all the supply planning that goes into it.
“We need to create the awareness that we have different roles all with specific skills, and we are trying to articulate what those skills are and how they translate into a role within the supply chain and transport and logistics industries.”
The ‘moving boxes’ perception needs to be countered and school students be made more aware of the quality career paths available in the industry.
School and third-party careers advisors are finding ways to leverage internships and apprenticeships to create more pathways to enable school leavers to gain an appreciation of the industry where opportunities are not restricted to driving roles and there are more diverse offerings in areas such as administration and customer service and the ever-expanding digital areas.
“When we are talking to the younger generation, particularly females, we are not actually selling the benefits of the industry,” says Lauren.
“One key success that we had at a school expo was a truck driver who was actually a former make-up artist. She’s wearing her hi-vis, she’s got her black safety shoes on and at the same time she looks fabulous and she’s making six figures as a MC truck driver. To young women that is an ‘Oh wow!’ revelation.”
This diversity within industry roles is seen as important to attracting interest from females.
“I’m a female driver and you can be a woman and still be in this industry, especially driving trucks,” says Courtenay. “But you don’t have to take femininity away, you can still be ‘girly’ and ‘you’ if that is what you want to do.”
A passionate advocate for the industry herself, True Ross-Sawrey sees the many possibilities.
“The way to get people into the industry is via awareness, by promotion and by a positive view of the industry. We’re typically perceived as just a dumb truck driver but that’s not the case at all,” says True.
“All of us have to constantly strive to advocate what the industry actually is and what we actually do and how essential we are and how many jobs there are and how much money you can make.”
TWAL Chair Jacquelene Brotherton urges industry recruiters to look beyond the usual targets for personnel in order to contribute to a sustainable workforce.
“We really need to be innovative in how we recruit, how we train and how we retain people,” she says. “Women and youth alone are not going to solve our problems in the supply chain, we’ve got to look further than that.”
The focus, she suggests, can be put on various groups including the refugee community and immigrant groups, such as Sikh communities to create awareness of the industry’s opportunities.
“This is a hidden industry,” adds Jacquelene. “People don’t realise how technologically advanced it is with factors such as trucks, robotic forklifts, and parcel sorting.”