See the country. Get paid to travel. Enjoy great job security. The romance of the open road and of the solitary driver hauling freight across lonely highways always draws a segment of the working public to the trucking industry.  Due to low population density and long distance between markets, Australia is heavily reliant upon moving road freight.

image by: O.P.D.I Trucks [flickr]

image by: O.P.D.I Trucks [flickr]

Truckers

Driving’s a tough job. Australia has some of the largest and heaviest road-legal vehicles in the world, with some reaching 200 tons, including some of the longest road trains in the world. Double (two-trailer) road train combinations can be found in most areas of Australia, with the serious road trains (the ones with three or more trailers) restricted to the less populated Outback regions. Understandable since these monsters of up to 53.5 metres in length don’t mix very well with normal traffic.

Not Easy-Peasy

Driving these massive machines is hard work. Often involving very long distances in relatively remote regions, truck driving requires long periods away from home and unpredictable schedules. It can be hazardous to your health.  Because much the time spent on the job is sedentary, many suffer from obesity, hypertension and Diabetes. Road transport workers are 15 times more likely to be killed at work than any other worker in Australia. Each year, 330 people are killed in Australian truck crashes. New driver recruitment can be a challenge.

Career

How viable is a career as a truck driver?  Few young people enter the industry, and apparently experienced drivers quit because of poor conditions. Those who might have once looked to trucking for a long-term career may be wise to look at other careers in truck servicing. The industry makes attracting and training young drivers a priority, but driver shortages already being felt in some areas. Whether driving a dry van, refrigerated or flatbed rig, salaries have barely budged over several years. In fact, driver wages today are much the same as in 2007. The rate of inflation has increased substantially faster than driver wages.

Add to this increased labour competition from the mining sector, an aging workforce, and a lack of interest among young people, and you may see an industry in crisis. Labour advocates charge this can be addressed largely by increasing wages and improving working conditions, but the industry is looking at other solutions.

Automated

Some see answers in newly developing autonomous trucks. Self-driving machines don’t require sleep, food or rest, and may indeed be more economical in the long term. (At an Australian iron-ore mine, 45 autonomous trucks are being introduced, eliminating 180 driving jobs.) The Australian Trucking Association suggests the best way to address the driver-shortage crisis in the short term is by recruiting foreign drivers to supplement the Australian workforce. Unions object and claim transport companies simply don’t want to pay the higher wages necessary to attract and retain native Australian drivers and, that recruiting and hiring foreign drivers unfamiliar with the challenges of driving in Australia creates big safety issues.

image by: WILEY BREWER [flickr]

image by: WILEY BREWER [flickr]

Lady at the Wheel

Others suggest the answer lies, not in bringing foreign drivers to fill the vacuum, but in encouraging another segment of the Australian workforce to consider careers in trucking, namely, women.

While approximately 5 per cent of the some 558,000 heavy-vehicle licence holders in Australia are women, there are those who think those numbers could easily be increased. Advocates of increasing female drivers say the only thing standing in the way of more women in cabs of rigs is satisfactory training, a lack of adequate female-friendly amenities, flexible work-hours and a willingness to address personal safety issues involved while on the road. This idea does have it’s critics as well, with some “traditionalists” in the industry saying that the term is “Big Wheel Men” and not  “Big Wheel women” for a reason, and that it’s a job at odds with women’s ambitions to socialise and have a family.

Vital Role

However this labour shortage is addressed, it’s clear that for much of its history, the Australian trucker played a vital role in the prosperity of Australia. With good policy decisions and constructive partnerships between industry and labour, the iconic Australian truck driver will continue to be seen on the road.