Skilled workforce shortages were a problem pre-pandemic, but the closure of international borders has further impacted the ability of employers to recruit staff in areas ranging from truck driving to the engineering skills necessary to deliver sophisticated infrastructure.
The freight and logistics sector is evolving and with it are the needs and skills of its workforce.
While over 600,000 workers are currently employed, this will need to increase to service growing populations and rapidly increasing consumer demand.
However, the end-to-end supply chain faces a looming talent shortage, with demand for skilled professionals expected to outstrip supply by six to one by 2023, according to work done by Deakin University.
COVID-19 challenges including international border restrictions affecting skilled migration, a sharp increase in e-commerce and disrupted training programs have exacerbated labour shortages, placing the industry under real pressure.
However, the broader structural challenges have pre-dated the pandemic. Truck drivers have certainly been the focus both here and globally.
Dominated by an ageing workforce, less than 15 per cent of the trucking industry are under the age of 30, and because the average age of a commercial truck driver is 53, many are retiring faster than younger drivers can be hired.
Truck driver shortages have also dominated global supply chain headlines this year. Britain reports a shortage of 100,000 drivers, while the US reports needing 80,000.
In Australia, anecdotally, we know there are thousands of vacancies across the supply chain for heavy vehicle drivers.
It’s not just on the road where we have a problem, rail freight has recruitment challenges as well with shortages of drivers, signalling engineers, maintenance workers and broader roles to meet construction projects that expect to peak in 2025.
Data management and data literacy form newer skill sets that have emerged to meet evolving supply chain needs.
As the supply chain continues to digitise, these skills are essential to support an increasingly automated environment and mitigate growing cybersecurity risks.
As organisations continue to evolve we are witnessing a swell in demand for new skills in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence, data manipulation, and ‘softer’ skills that enable humans and machines to become effective coworkers.
Meeting these skills shortages is a challenge but also an opportunity to build on some of the momentum and visibility the supply chain has generated through COVID, to showcase what a great career choice the sector can be.
Research commissioned by Wayfinder and undertaken by Deakin University’s Centre for Supply Chain and Logistics (CSCL) Talent and Capability Laboratory found that there were some recurring themes when it came to recruitment challenges in the freight and logistics sector including a poor image, education gaps and difficulties of attracting staff to the regions or outer urban areas.
Organisation leaders have been proactive in setting up programs to promote career pathways and attract more diversity into the workforce.
Initiatives including the Inland Rail Skills Academy and digital career maps such as Wayfinder have gone some way to address labour needs.
There’s more to do and governments have a role to play. To address workforce shortages and at the urging of the Australian Government, the Transport and Logistics Industry Reference Committee (IRC) is proposing a new Heavy Vehicle Driver Apprenticeship in response to calls to professionalise the Heavy Vehicle Driver occupation.
The apprenticeship is a medium-term solution that will hopefully address driver shortages across Australia, create career pathways and ensure the safety of workers and all other road users. Additionally, Infrastructure and Transport Ministers have supported the creation of a National Rail Skills Hub to improve access and pathways to the current and future rail skills needed to build and operate the national rail network.
Other initiatives that supply chain participants are pushing for include:
• Apprentice level training programs to assist smaller operators with access to trained staff for data and cybersecurity requirements
• Establishing infrastructure as a stand-alone category in the Global Talent Visa Program, to help technical road and rail construction shortfalls
• Recognising truck drivers as a shortage on the Priority Skilled Occupations List will also provide businesses with access to an international skilled talent pool.
As an industry we can also work to build on the sector’s image and the visibility generated through the pandemic – to promote the breadth of career opportunities and pathways, as well as the growing diversity of the workforce.
Investing in our future skills will yield benefits beyond local economic growth, ensuring our supply chain will remain resilient and globally competitive.