Engaging and retraining tradespeople is a constant challenge, according to Bob Woodward, Australian Trucking Association Chief Engineer, who has been exploring trailer maintenance competency modules.
As far back as the 1990s, there were attempts to address the, then, ongoing shortage of maintenance personnel, especially in trailer maintenance. It seems that in 2021 not much has changed, unless we, the trucking industry, do something about it.
This issue was explored at the ATA’s TMC Online conference in November, which generated interesting discussion on the potential for developing training modules for those who do not have any formal training or are trained in an unrelated discipline.
There are many trade assistants and the like who have spent years in workshops working with qualified professionals and are extremely capable in specific maintenance tasks. But unless they have a recognised competency, should they really be working on safety critical items unsupervised? If something does goes astray relating to maintenance, will you sleep better if you know that the person who completed such maintenance held a certificate in a related competency?
During the conference session, the consensus was that the issue must be addressed, competencies are supported and must have cross-border recognition. We also asked the big questions: is there a need for maintenance competencies? If so, what modules need to be considered?
Our panel identified four proposed modules: Chassis Frame, including identifying chassis cracks as well as welding and repairs, Couplings (fifth wheel, kingpins, and pin couplings), Services, such as airlines, fittings and lighting, and Suspension and Axles, including tyres and rims, wheel bearings, foundation brakes and trailer EBS.
Industry feedback following the session has raised some interesting points about this proposal, including the question of why trailer maintenance modules and competency could not be included in Certificate III HCV qualifications. There is no reason as to why trailer modules could not be included as part of these qualifications, however the concept is focused on those people who do not hold any competency and have not completed an appropriate trade qualification.
It was noted that while training providers such as TAFE NSW offer a AUR31116 Certificate III in Heavy Commercial Vehicle Technology on scope, there is currently no Certificate II in Heavy Commercial Trailer technology on scope in Skills for Australia. Of the outcomes learned in the AUR 31116 qualification, only brake and suspension topics are applicable to trailer and often trailer suspensions are vastly different to those systems in rigids and prime movers.
Industry needs modules specific to task including the ancillary equipment on specialised trailers such as refrigeration units and hydraulics.
While industry currently does not have the solution, what is lacking has been identified. We are looking to up-skill current trade assistant employees with units of competency to meet compliance responsibilities. While it would not be a full qualification, a learner could be deemed competent in the required units for compliance.
After initial discussions, it is clear that pathways for current trades assistants with experience need to be established. A good starting point is reaching out to current training providers that have this qualification on scope and establish what flexibility they have in delivering this program. The concept of competency modules has been discussed by industry for at least 25 years, but to our knowledge, no training organisation has really embraced such a concept.