Ask most fleet managers what their biggest challenge is and the almost universal answer is the scarcity of good drivers.
The industry suffers from having an ageing workforce and the lack of qualified heavy vehicle operators will require a number of initiatives in terms of addressing the early steps in the career paths of people interested in becoming drivers.
Since 2015, the NSW-based Livestock, Bulk and Rural Carriers Association (LBRCA) has been encouraging young professional truck drivers through the Young Driver of the Year award, which is being supported by the state government agency SafeWork NSW, with the underlying purpose to attract and retain new drivers to the livestock and bulk transport industries.
The winner of the 2021 Young Driver Award is 33 years old Mathew Benseman who lives in the Tamworth suburb of Westdale. Originally from New Zealand, Mat came to Australia on a working holiday and was attracted to the agricultural sector.
“I started out working on a farm and doing a bit of casual truck driving, and eventually I thought I’d give it a go full time,” he says.
Mat was initially driving for Stockmaster and in 2018 he commenced working for Maloney Livestock Transport, a Tamworth outfit who moves sheep and cattle around various areas of Australia.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I started carting livestock but I enjoy going to work with my dogs and I enjoy carting sheep,” says Mat.
“You get to take a bit of responsibility in running your own show and being on the road, meeting new people and going new places. From the cab of a truck it’s a pretty good way to see Australia.”
Mat owes a great deal to Mick and Carolyn Maloney for whom he says have both contributed a large amount of their own personal effort and trust to get him where he is today, including the handing over of a brand new Kenworth late in 2020.
“Maloney’s is a really good company to work for,” says Mat. “They encourage young drivers and don’t mind teaching you things. They have experienced drivers there who are happy to give us advice and help when necessary.”
Mathew is well-respected for understanding the value of maintaining safety standards relating to the well-being of stock he is carrying. Director of Maloney Livestock Transport ,Mick Maloney says Mathew has a good habit of looking at the big picture.
“He is an excellent employee with a no fuss approach to his work,” he says.
The LBRCA/SafeWork Young Driver of the Year award includes a $5,000 study tour and Mat has been selected to visit New Zealand in August this year where he will tour the Waikato region to view their innovative stock truck effluent roadside disposal program as well as visiting a processing plant and a saleyard.
Mat had hoped to visit the United States but at least the Australia-New Zealand travel bubble will permit him to revisit his country of origin and to view its livestock transport industry from a different perspective.
Mat acknowledges there are certain barriers for young people wanting to enter the industry.
“It can be difficult to get a start because everyone wants someone with experience,” he says.
He also feels that the level of red tape in relation to compliance can be daunting for the uninitiated, especially in relation to logbooks.
“I know they have to enforce it, but there’s not too many jobs in the world where you get fined for minor clerical errors,” he says, “A bit more flexibility would help where it’s a genuine mistake and not intended to cheat the system.”
The LBRCA has developed a cadetship initiative aimed at attracting and retaining young people in the heavy vehicle industry. President Paul Pulver says the drift of young people to the cities has a negative effect not just on the pool of available transport workers, but also on the wider communities.
“Something like TAFE isn’t going to teach them what they need to know,” says Paul. “We need people who are job ready and the only way we can achieve that is to lower the age to 18 to obtain a B-double licence.”
This seemingly radical proposal includes a number of restrictions including mandating the latest in truck safety technology such as driver facial monitoring and electronic braking systems.
The licence would only be valid for the specific employer and employee combination and would only be applicable to operations in the rural space and not for general freight.
It would involve a minimum of 200 hours for the driver-applicant accompanied by an experienced driver before they can be granted a licence for single trailer operations.
After a period and another 100 hours of accompanied supervision they would be able to apply for a B-double licence under the proposed cadetship.
At 33 years of age Mat has much to look forward to, including his wedding early in 2022, and he hopes to one day own a prime mover himself — towing someone else’s trailers he’s quick to add.
The LBRCA/SafeWork NSW award means a lot to Mat.