Women in Trucking
Although women make up around half the Australian workforce, they only account for five per cent of the roles in the transport industry. How can trucking become a career of choice for a largely untapped labour pool?
Australia’s road transport industry is changing. Gone are the days of clunky crash boxes, manually winding landing legs and strapping loads – most of these tasks can now be either automated or mechanically assisted as technology continues to evolve rapidly.
With features like automated transmissions and dynamic steering becoming increasingly prevalent, modern heavy-duty vehicles are thus removing many of the physical entry barriers that have traditionally defined – and restricted – commercial road transport, opening it up for a new group of young and ambitious female professionals that have historically been left out.
And, it hasn’t come a moment too soon, with the commercial road transport industry in Australia facing an impending driver shortage as an ageing workforce is forced to handle a quickly expanding freight task*.
Though the issue itself is nothing new, Volvo Group Australia recently thrust it back into the limelight when it released a self-funded driver shortage study in May, claiming, “Australia is facing a big problem when it comes to driver availability, and it’s only getting worse.”
Acknowledging that providing Australia’s female workforce access to the industry may help alleviate the pressure, Volvo Group Australia President, Peter Voorhoeve, reacted by donating two brand-new prime movers to heavy vehicle driving academy, Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls (PHHG) – not only as an immediate measure to get women behind the wheel, but also as a symbol that the OEM is starting to take the problem in its own hands. Unsurprisingly, both vehicles were fitted with the latest in driver support technology.
According to Peter, PHHG is a prime example for an organisation making use of a changing industry landscape to create new job opportunities and help solve some of the industry’s more broad-based, structural issues along the way. By seeing women as a largely untapped labour pool that could ease the shortfall, he says PHHG founder, Heather Jones, is at the forefront of reshaping Australia’s transport workforce.
“Women make up a tiny proportion of Australian heavy-vehicle drivers, but they’re just as capable of driving a big rig as a man,” says Heather – explaining her goal is to provide a safe and supportive environment to welcome females into what has long been a male-dominated industry.
“We know that the road freight task is increasing, but fewer people are entering the industry, and a big part of this is an image problem. We want to change that. For a lot of people, driving a truck is all about machismo, but to us it’s about getting the job done safely and efficiently. And, that’s where women come into play.”
The not-for-profit organisation gives newly licenced truck drivers an opportunity to gain the kind of real-life on-road experience that is a must for most driving roles in Australia. Throughout her years running PHHG, Heather says she has found women to be typically gentler on equipment than men, a factor which is appreciated by the fleets waiting to hire her graduates once they finish their 160 hours of tutelage.
One haulage company that jumped at the chance to recruit from the training organisation is Pilbara-based Calway Logistics, which brought PHHG graduate Candice Lureman onto its team. Callie Ewing, who runs Calway with her husband Wayne, says Candice is one of the best drivers the transport company has ever employed.
“Candice was just awesome. Her performance was excellent and I was constantly impressed by her strength, stamina and drive,” Callie says. “We really appreciated the way she treated the equipment with respect. She was very professional and while we had Candice on the team, we had a large lift in morale across the company.”
Candice, who is legally deaf, has since contracted for Success Transport and Calway Logistics in WA, before moving to Brisbane to be closer to her family. “I just love to drive. When I drive a truck I don’t think that I am deaf, I feel like I am normal person like anyone else,” Candice reveals. “It is peaceful when I am on the road and alone with my thoughts. I fell in love with trucks because it’s different kind of career. It feels liberating to drive a big rig.”
While a long haul driving role isn’t suited to everyone – regardless of gender – Candice believes that people disqualify themselves from considering a career in trucking for the wrong reasons. “It is far more important to have the right personality than meet certain strength requirements to be a driver. If you have to carry a lot of heavy pallets then you just use the right equipment to load and unload,” she explains – pointing to the advancements made on the technology front of late. “Heather told us to learn to keep smiling, if you smile, things will work out because a bad attitude is like a flat tire – we can’t go anywhere until we change it.”
Candice is now working on her Certificate IV in Driving operations and looking to become an Ambassador for the industry, advocating for the deaf community, women and women with disabilities. In line with Candice’s transition through the industry, Pam McMillan, Director of Albury-based DP Haulage and current Chair of Transport Women Australia Limited (TWAL), says the career opportunities in transport aren’t limited to being a driver – even though that pathway is now more accessible than ever before.
“TWAL promotes roles in transport because it is a great industry to work in, with a good vibe and camaraderie. There is a plethora of jobs available from driving a semi to operating plant and equipment, selling machinery or parts, delivery person, marketing and management,” she says.
Agrees Managing Director of Taylors Removals, Melissa Taylor (pictured), who won the first ever Women in Industry Commercial Road Transport Excellence Award in 2016. “I’m the fourth generation to take on the role in the transport industry, and many people fall into the industry the same way I did. There so many opportunities for women with drive, so it is my goal to make it an industry of choice for everyone,” Melissa says – revealing that family connections are still the most prominent entryway for women to the industry.
One person that was inspired by her family to join the trucking realm is Paula Batey, who has been driving a milk tanker for Peter Stoitse Transport for the last seven years. Sharing the cab of her owner-driver father’s truck since infancy, Paula says that driving is in her blood – although her father initially didn’t agree on making it a career.
“My very old-fashioned father thought driving a truck wasn’t a job for a young lady, but trucking is in my blood and I just love it. Over the years dad has changed his tune – now he sees how much I love my job and says he is very proud of me. With technology making access so much easier and businesses becoming more open to employ female staff, there’s a real opportunity for women now.”
With reference to her father, Paula says she has seen the general perception of women behind the wheel slowly improving within the industry as more and more females join the ranks of Australia’s heavy vehicle operators and prove themselves capable.
“The people I work with are gentlemen, they’re very respectful. People are the same in any industry, for every 20 people you might encounter one fool who thinks you’re a silly girl, but they soon see what a mistake it is to make assumptions based on gender.”
Though organisations like the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls continue to turn out sought-after female drivers, however, there is still a long way to go to spreading awareness of the benefits of careers for women in road transport. Yet, with technology continuing to advance and support coming in directly from an OEM level, change is rippling fast through the industry, says Heather.
With Volvo’s fantastically generous offer, we’re now able to train more people, and train them to the world-class standard of the Volvo Group. I’m so excited, because after such a long time, someone is coming on board and taking the lead with training.”
The full story has appeared in the October edition of Prime Mover. To get your copy, click here.