Where are the next generation of truck drivers?

The Australian road transport industry continues to suffer from a shortage of young drivers while its existing workforce continues to age and approach retirement. We spoke to the younger brigade who explain the motivations and disincentives of a career in trucking

A common consensus across the truck industry is that there are way too many disincentives deterring young Australians from considering a career driving trucks. On the flip side, there are many drivers that have chosen trucking and say the freedom of life on the road makes up for the negatives.

OwnerDriver reached out to working young people in the transport industry to hear about their stories and find out what they believe needs to change.

Each respondent explained that they were either born into a family of transport workers or had a deep passion for trucks and transport that made them want to put up with the many sacrifices the industry demands.

Twenty-nine-year-old Cameron Byrom from Perth told us what attracted him to truck driving.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid watching dad drive trucks,” he says. “I’ve met a lot of good people throughout my childhood that made a good living on the road and had some unreal stories to tell.

“At 25 I got my truck licence and moved out of the office and into one of the trucks full-time. It was an itch I needed to scratch and I’m glad I did it,” Byrom says.

Despite the drawbacks, he says there’s a lot he still enjoys about the profession.

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“Watching the scenery change as you move across the state, looking up at the countless stars when you’re camped up overnight in the middle of nowhere, the time and space you get for deep thinking, and meeting great people all over the place.

“I also just love trucks, so I get to see a lot of really nice rigs out and about, often with top-notch operators behind the wheel,” Byrom says.

Job security

Twenty-seven-year-old William De Maio of Melbourne says it was an interest in vehicles that got him started.

“I have a passion for anything with wheels and an engine. I also love driving and being out on the road so to me it was a no-brainer.

“It’s an industry that’s always on the go – it never stops. And when you’re living in uncertain times like we are currently, having that job security is a big weight off the shoulders. Transport never stops.”

RELATED ARTICLE: NatRoad to address driver shortage.

De Maio says there are other parts of the job he appreciates.

“I enjoy being out on the road; every day is different with plenty of variety. You get to meet some really cool people out there as well.”

For many younger drivers and owner-drivers however, the downsides to a career in transport are many and should create pause for anyone considering getting stared in the industry.

Western Australia-based Cameron Byrom believes truck driving should come with a trade qualification

Laurie Frederikson of Queensland is 30 years-old and points to over-regulation as the number one disincentive for young people entering the transport industry.

“We are one of the most over regulated industries in Australia. I invite anyone to give me an example of a different industry where the worker can be given an on-the-spot fine or given a court date for just doing their job,” Frederikson exclaims.

“The logbook alone can cost a driver anywhere from half to well over his weekly wage just for going 15 minutes or half an hour over their legal working hours. 

“In any other industry that would be called overtime and would be reflected in the pay packet at the end of the week.

“The logbook has been designed to catch people out, so they make mistakes as far as I’m concerned.

“We’re truck drivers not rocket scientists so why make the logbook so intricate that it’s harder to make it right than it is to get it wrong?” Frederikson says.

However, he still considers truck driving a long-term career and one of the best industries to be involved in.

“Being a truck driver becomes not only a job, but a way of life.”

However, Cameron Byrom says the strain on relationships is another factor that would deter many people from becoming a long-haul driver.

“The unpredictable nature of long-distance transport is really hard on relationships. I’m often having to cancel plans because of a delay somewhere or a last-minute job coming up, which puts a strain on things at times.

“It’s also tricky maintaining physical and mental health on the road,” Byrom adds.

Perceived negativity

Warren Clark, CEO of the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) says the industry doesn’t just have to be for those born into it or with a strong enough passion to accept the drawbacks. Clark says there can be a real place for transport workers in Australia.

“The simple fact of it is, is that not everyone’s going to go to university, not everyone’s going to go to TAFE. Not everyone’s going to be a doctor or a lawyer. So, truck driving itself can appeal to younger people.

“This industry is full of opportunities, but it has a lot of perceived negativity about it. For young people looking for a career in transport, there needs to be a career path established. There needs to be flexibility, and there needs to be adequate training.

One of the Kenworths that Cameron Byrom drives for Combined Logistics in WA

“At the present time the only thing that these guys get training on is the licensing process and that’s where it’s completely wrong,” Clark says.

Will De Maio says that without going through a proper apprenticeship program, learning about the industry, and gaining experience, was unnecessarily difficult.

“At first it was tough because no one wants to help – it’s like everything is a big secret.

“A lot of my knowledge come from talking to older seasoned drivers I met while at [my previous job] Bridgestone and watching Australian trucker Rod on YouTube, and that’s 100 per cent the truth,” De Maio says.

“I had very few people who were willing to help me, and even the ones that did wouldn’t say much. For someone just starting out they need all the help they can get.

“While I love trucks, I also love other things. A life in transport often doesn’t leave a lot of spare time to raise kids, play social sport, hang out with mates and family,” he says.

“Finding time to do even the simplest things like mowing the lawn or maintaining the car can be hard at times.” 

Paperwork errors

The penalties in the truck driving industry was another issue that quickly came up for many of the younger owner-drivers we heard from. While generally understood that fatigue and safety standards need to be met there is a still a feeling that many of these fines are unfair and actively discourage new drivers from entering the industry.

De Maio believes the penalty systems have instilled a culture of guilt and fear into owner-drivers.

“We understand having rules and regulations to create a safer industry for everyone; I don’t think anyone has a problem with that. What I do think people have a problem with is getting fine after fine for paperwork errors.

“We all know that feeling of pulling into a weighbridge, even if you’ve done nothing wrong you start to sweat! Most of the time they aren’t even worried about walking around the truck. They just want to see logbooks and certificates!”

Warren Clark calls it a ludicrous system that deters people from the freedom the industry can offer young people.

“These days you have people that don’t want to work five or seven days a week. But you can get in a truck, and you can work for just two or three days, you can do it at night, or in the day.

“There’s plenty of flexibility in our industry but people just don’t see it.

NatRoad CEO Warren Clark say prescriptive fines are a deterrent for newcomers to the industry

“So then when we get these people into the industry, how do we keep them? We keep them through adequate training, proper pay and flexibility.”

Clark says the penalty system and the prescriptive fines imposed on drivers is ludicrous.

“That is a massive deterrent to people staying in the industry. So many people get their licences, but why would they if they get fined $600 for a logbook breach or because they haven’t spelled a town right?”

For Cameron Byrom the changes in the industry that will make the biggest difference to how many young people consider it a viable career come down to an adequate training program.

RELATED ARTICLE: Boost for female driver recruitment. 

“The school system pushes kids to either go to university or get a trade, neither of which leads to a career in transport, so truck driving isn’t seen as a respectable or skilled job.

“Creating an industry apprenticeship program and making heavy vehicle operations a trade qualification is a good start, but this is much more than an image problem.

“Despite what the older generation like to claim, young people these days aren’t generally scared of hard work or long hours, they just don’t want to do it forever. And given the option, they’ll almost always choose to work smarter rather than harder,” Byrom says.

“The next generation places a greater value on work-life balance, physical and mental health, life experiences and relationships than previous generations did.”

However, Byrom has a word of caution for would-be truckies.

“If there’s no passion for trucks and you’re just looking for a job to pay the bills, I’d say look elsewhere.”

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