Prime Mover Magazine

The Hidden Industry

The Hidden Industry

The need to recruit a new generation to the transport and logistics industry is reaching critical importance as the nation’s freight task continues to grow. Forward-thinking businesses react now.

The pressure is on: With Australia’s freight task expected to double between 2010 and 2030 and triple by 2050, businesses all around the country are working feverishly to prepare for a historic surge in road transport and logistics activity.

As part of that preparation, the industry is going to need a sizeable influx of talent to handle both the volume of work and the new complexities that come with it. According to the Transport and Logistics Industry Skills Council (TLISC), a workforce of over 391,000 people will be required as early as 2018 – almost six per cent more than in 2013.

And, that figure is not even accounting for the increasing age of those currently in service: Across the logistics industry, 62 per cent of workers are aged over 45, meaning it is aging more than twice as quickly as other sectors, TSLIC’s 2015 E-Scan found. With the Bureau of Statistics adding that the average retirement age in Australia is around 55, there is evidence that the employment gap could be widening even more than expected over the coming decade.

One company that is proactively preparing for that scenario is New Zealand-based logistics giant, Mainfreight. According to Training and Development Team Leader, Gabrielle Fage, the company believes that “right now” is the perfect time to promote the career opportunities in the supply chain and logistics industry to Australia’s youth.

“There is no doubt we have an aging workforce, and if we don’t bring more young people into the industry, we’re going to run out of talent to keep developing our industry and business,” she explains. “With youth come fresh ideas and perspectives. Mainfreight is about getting people into the business that have those good ideas on how to move, store and promote freight and use emerging technologies to continue to grow the business. If we don’t have people coming in, we’d be frozen.”

Gabrielle says the trouble with recruiting young people into careers in transport and logistics is that it still is a ‘hidden industry’ for many of them. “The general perception needs to change,” she says. “There is little or wrong information circulating, and as an industry, we don’t seem to get the right messages across. People need to understand that the supply chain is a stable economic industry – everyone needs it, no matter what industry they’re in, so Mainfreight is taking action to promote that fact.”

The TLISC agrees, adding that, “raising awareness of the sector is critical to encouraging new entrants”, and suggests concentrating on online shopping as a touch point to help raise the sector’s profile with young people. Covering the whole bandwidth of logistics-related positions from marketing through to local delivery, it is believed to be the ideal ‘entry point’ for the hyper-connected Gen Y – and at an estimated value of $16 billion and a predicted annual growth rate of 16.5 per cent*, it is becoming more impactful every year.

A second advantage of using e-commerce as the industry’s new poster child is its close alignment with an often-misunderstood core occupation of the logistics trade – driving. With home deliveries booming, there is an urgent need for light and medium-duty rigid trucks to be added the fleet. And, as more trucks hit the roads, they will need competent drivers with Medium Rigid (MR) or Heavy Rigid (HR) licences that are also able to communicate well and solve problems independently.

Ready and willing to teach the next generation of multi-talented rigid truck drivers are nationally recognised Registered Training Organisations (RTO) like the Driver Education Centre of Australia (DECA), which provide training and assessment for all levels of truck licences.

In line with the TLISC’s recommendation, Marcus Kelly, Business Manager of DECA’s Altona and Brooklyn branches in Melbourne, says 70 per cent of students are already choosing the sought-after MR and HR licences.

“Here at DECA, we are doing our part to train the next generation of drivers required to keep Australia running,” says Marcus. “At our Altona training centre alone, 1,670 students completed truck licences last year. If a student passes one of our courses, it means they will be competent and confident to step into a driver role at any road transport company in Australia and get straight to work safely.”

Out of all students undertaking heavy vehicle courses across the DECA branches in 2015, Marcus says an overwhelming majority were male, and less than five per cent female. “There is a huge gender gap in trucking, so we’re doing what we can to get more women into the industry. If anyone shows an interest in doing a driver course but isn’t sure, we invite them to come to our training facility and show them first-hand what is involved,” he says. “It is really helpful to align expectations and certainly helps with enrolments, but there is a lot that needs to be done to attract more women to a career in transport.”

DECA’s low female participation ratio is much in line with the driver population’s overall share of just four per cent, according to the TLISC’s most recent count. In all roles across road transport, that number only rises to 15 per cent.

Given that women comprise 45.9 per cent of all employees in Australia**, it is unsurprising that the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has recently acknowledged the industry’s ‘gender crisis’ by hosting a Diversity and Inclusion Summit. “[The Summit] represents the beginning of ALC’s journey to work with its members to bring our workforce into 2015,” Alex Badenoch, Director of Human Resources at Asciano, said at the November event. “It is our first step towards making our industry more diverse and more inclusive. Our aim is to ensure our industry has the best possible talent working across all parts of the supply chain.”

Mainfreight’s Training and Development Team Leader, Gabrielle, agrees with Alex, adding the common perception that the only job in the industry is driving trucks is part of the problem. “While the jobs at the coalface are incredibly important, they are only part of a much larger industry. There are a huge variety of career paths available, from simple admin through to marketing, finance, IT, HR and even top management,” she explains. “As important it is to take the stigma away from driving, we also need to do more to change that one-dimensional perception.”

With such a variety of roles to fill and time being against the industry to create a suitable talent pool, Gabrielle’s employer has already taken action. As part of its efforts to prepare for a future boom market, Mainfreight sends teams to visit local schools and make presentations, and will also be making use of the Careers and Education Pavilion at the upcoming International Truck, Trailer and Equipment Show (ITTES) in Melbourne this May.

“The Education and Careers Pavilion gives us an excellent opportunity to have a number of Mainfreight team members from various parts of the business on the floor and talking to the public,” Gabrielle says. “We’re sharing real stories from real people about the multitude of career options from the supply chain and logistics industry, which we believe is the best way to share the message.”

According to Gabrielle, the fight for talent has only just begun, though: Data from global talent solutions company, Hudson, is showing that hiring intentions among Australian employers have recently hit a four-year high, so attracting the best people will become increasingly competitive, she says.

That’s also why long-term planning for internal promotions is a key element to Mainfreight’s training and development strategy, as Gabrielle says the New Zealand-based company believes appointing a CEO is ideally a matter of ‘hiring up the chain’.

“If we’re training our team members correctly, we will always have the people in line ready to take over. If any team member has a particular interest in taking on a new position, we put them through training to help round out their skill sets,” she explains. “We have all sorts of training including on systems, operations, customer service, time management and leadership training. As a business, it’s our responsibility to step up when people present themselves.”

As team members move up the ranks through internal promotions and the freight task continues to grow, the industry’s recruitment need will only get more critical as time passes, she adds. Yet, with young people and women currently underrepresented in the industry, there is a large group of talent just waiting to be tapped.“ Now is the time to act.

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