A young Stawell-based truck driver has joined Victoria's peak advocacy body for the transport industry in calling for changes in how new drivers are recruited.
Twenty-year-old Josh Pyke believes truck driving forms a crucial part of Australia's economy, particularly in regions with agriculture-based economies. His comments come as the number of drivers is declining in the Wimmera.
Mr Pyke carts grain across regional Victoria for Ararat's Molloy Brothers Transport. He said there weren't many companies in Western Victoria that would put young people on.
"There aren't too many pathways in either. At the end of the day we're in a rural community and it's not what you know but who you know," he said.
An April report by government-funded not-for-profit Australian Industry Standards found "over 80 per cent of employers reported experiencing a skills shortage in the last 12 months".
It listed causes including an aging workforce, the industry's "poor image" and the cost and time it takes to become a qualified driver.
The report found the average age of the transportation workforce is 45, higher than other major industries. Mr Pyke said he knew he was an exception in the trucking industry, and agreed time was an obstacle to young people entering the industry.
"If you want a medium-sized truck licence you need to have held your full car driver's licence for a year, and for a heavy rigid licence you need to have held it for two years," he said. "You then need to have held your heavy rigid licence for a year before you can get your heavy combination (truck with three or more axles) licence."
Mr Pyke has wanted to be a driver since he was six years old. His grandfather Leslie and his uncles Michael and Steven have also driven for Stawell companies. He found his love for truck driving when his uncles took him on jobs.
After finishing school at 18, he deferred and eventually left a Bachelor of Science degree at Ballarat's Federation University, taking packing and truck-loading jobs at Stawell's Frewstal abattoir to help pay for his truck licence tests.
Mr Pyke said he found truck driving rewarding for the chance to see some of the country and playing a part in the region and nation's economy.
"It's always been a interest to carry on the family bloodline," he said. "You're doing your part of the country as well: Without truck drivers, Australia stops.
"Long story short, it's a hard pathway to get into. I think the (state) government needs to step up to make an apprenticeship out of it."
Efforts to "professionalize" truck driving continue
Victorian Transport Association chief executive Peter Anderson agreed truck driver training needed to change.
"You can get a truck licence within five hours and $1000. It's 120 hours of instruction before you can get a car licence, but under the law there is no prescribed time behind the wheel of a truck to get a licence," he said.
"The sort of training we're looking at will professionalize our industry, which will then make people realise the value of a truck driver, and the nature of their work will start to change.
"Instead of a farmer buying a truck for four months of the year and then having to farm that truck out to other work, the farmer may actually turn around and hire someone to work for them for that four months, so they don't need to buy the capital equipment."
Mr Anderson said Victoria's transport industry was short between 3000 and 5000 qualified truck drivers "because (qualified drivers) don't see the industry as a career, or can't get a job full-time,".
"It's also harder to get drivers in regional areas, even though 80 per cent of road freight in Victoria travels less than 100 kilometres from the point of departure," he said.
Mr Anderson said VTA wanted to get people interested in driving trucks for each of the different supply chains road freight services.
"The government has given the VTA chair of a review committee of the licensing system, and we're proposing a plan that will see a skill-based graduated system where people are trained more thoroughly," he said.
Jed Clark of Horsham freight company J.R Clark Haulage said he hadn't been looking to employ truck drivers in the past few years, given his business hadn't had an "overabundance" of work in recent years.
Tony Kirchner of Horsham repairs business Kirchner trucks noted there weren't many road freight operators left in the Wimmera, given overhead costs on the transport industry such as registration and insurance were very high and big companies like Kmart and Woolworths set what they would pay for freight.
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