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Skilling, training and supporting transport workers: VTA State Conference 2022

It was said at the VTA State Conference last week that heavy vehicle licensing is not working. Two leaders in this space engaged in robust discussion about how to improve employability and safety.

Australian Industry Standards CEO, Paul Walsh, spoke about heavy vehicle driver apprenticeships and provided some context for the delegates in attendance to consider.

He opened his presentation with reference to various figures including the average truck driver age (47), gender distribution is currently 77 per cent male and 23 per cent female. Also, the transport and logistics industry has 190,681 enterprises is mostly comprised of small businesses (98.5 per cent) while medium-sized businesses account for 1.3 per cent and large only 0.1 per cent.

This industry pulls $118.25 billion in revenue and adds $41.72 billion to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Truck driver employment in 2022 is about 544,570 and employment growth to 2027 is expected to be about 5.0 per cent.

Walsh explained the pathway to professionalising the heavy vehicle driver is through apprenticeships. These apprentices are typically existing workers, new entrants, school leavers and those who have undertaken a school based pre-apprenticeship.

Armstrongs Driver Training CEO, Craig Nicholson, launched a presentation on heavy vehicle training updates and questioned whether the industry has made any ground?

His main contention is that the timing of the education process should be condensed to improve heavy vehicle driver uptake and serve as a better incentive to attract new talent.

A heavy vehicle licence review commenced late 2020 and the review paper is due mid-2022. The timelines for potential change, according to Nicholson, allow at least two-to-five years or maybe no change at all.

In 2021, 22,805 Victorian heavy vehicle licenses were issued. The majority of these drivers had approx. four to eight hours behind the wheel.

“Heavy vehicle licensing is not working,” said Nicholson. “It is not producing competent, safe, low-risk employable drivers.”

Since 2013 he has raised concerns to VicRoads and the Department of Transport and said the latest responses he has received include:

“Waiting for the solution to come from Austroads Heavy Vehicle Licence Review.”

“Waiting for Government funding to implement a solution.”

“Timeframes for a new system implementation is unknown.”

“We will not implement an interim solution.”

Nicholson said an interim licensing solution cannot wait any longer.

“All stakeholders need a solution that produces low-risk, safe and employable New Entry Level Drivers (NELDs),” he said – adding an interim solution is not hard especially if it improves employability, solves new driver employment needs and promotes safety.

The Victorian Transport Association (VTA) has a Driver Delivery Program (DDP) which mandates a minimum timeframe and implements a training framework, curriculum and assessment for all accredited heavy vehicle training and assessment providers.

DDP according to Nicholson proves this concept works and delivers low-risk, safe and employable drivers for its members.

Graduates of VTA’s DDP claim the behind the wheel experience and skill development is very good compared to those who have only attended a one- or two-day program.

Also, the training is reported to provide candidates with a broad range of driving experiences including city streets, industrial estates and rural settings.

DDP graduates can also identify the improvement areas and provide the corrective actions and solutions to improve their own driving skills.

Ultimately, DDP candidates are required to apply skills to safely drive a heavy vehicle, identify the risks and to drive to the conditions of the environment.

On-boarding is also a key part of the post-DDP experience.

Graduates typically buddy with an experienced and competent driver in the first week or two of joining an organisation. They are also shown by operators the requirements expected in the yards and locations, including the load restraint requirements of loads and moving equipment in the yard as well as requirements of specific company routes and deliveries.

“The outcomes of DDP cannot be attributed to the simple proposition that ‘if a trainee does more training hours they will receive a better outcome,” said Nicholson. “The DDP is unique because the framework provides consistency, the layering of the skills, knowledge, techniques and low-risk thinking frameworks.”

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