The Professional Approach

The Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls set a hard standard to match – Words by Maree Mullett

As any professional driver would agree, there’s a large void in terms of a driver’s personal experience and knowledge gained from becoming proficient in driving a vehicle, to possessing a full understanding of all the issues that a driver can face every day in the operation of a truck.

How you learn the necessary background to surviving and excelling in this industry has generally been dependent on in-house training programmes, or by learning from the ground up as you start working in the family business. For those that don’t have those options, it’s a difficult road to follow in order to gain the necessary experience; at least it has been until now.

Volvo is one of only two manufacturers that have been at the forefront of driver training in this country, and through this initiative has established very comprehensive in-house training programmes.

For the manufacturer, it creates a better understanding of the technology and innovation now present in a modern vehicle and the results show a tangible benefit by way of fuel consumption reduction and a greater empathy with the vehicle and the componentry. If there is a downside to the initiatives shown by these two companies, it’s that the other major manufacturers have not followed their lead.

Passing a driving test and graduating through the various categories from light rigid to multiple combination heavy haulage operation to become proficient in all aspects of the transport can’t be learnt from reading a book. It is achieved by working with instructors able to pass on their expertise to trainees by providing the insight into the necessary safety aspects and technical knowledge that completes their understanding and ability.

At the 2015 ATA conference in Hobart, Tasmania, Heather Jones, CEO of the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls (PHHG) Institute, was recognised by the Australian Trucking Association for making the “Most Outstanding Contribution to the Australian Road Transport Sector”.

With the background of a career spanning over 25 years of truck operation, including heavy haulage, tipper work, tanker work, double and triple general freight work as well as working as a pilot for heavy loads, Heather Jones has made it her ambition to provide hands-on programmes that give a driver the additional training they need to become proficient in all aspects of the transport industry.

The training programmes of the PHHG, which is a not for profit organisation, extend through a 160-hour period, and this initiative has now received further recognition in the form of support from Volvo Group Australia.

In Melbourne, recently, Volvo Group Australia president, Peter Voorhoeve, announced the support of both Volvo Trucks and Mack Trucks to the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls (PHHG) Training Institute, through the provision of two prime movers to take part in the driver training programmes run by PHHG from its base in Karratha, West Australia.

The prime movers represent the top-of-the-line VGA models with a Volvo FH 700 hp model soon to be followed by a MACK Super-Liner with a 60-inch integrated sleeper.

This is really a big deal, and for a major multinational manufacturer like the VGA Group it represents the strongest level of commitment to the transport industry as it recognises the importance of excellence in training for drivers who want to join the industry in which they market their products.

The move follows Peter Voorhoeve’s personal views as expressed to PowerTorque that, as a truck manufacturer, his company also has a responsibility to ensure the industry remains viable and able to provide a total customer service. This includes encouraging new drivers with incentives to consider a future in transport.

The strategic vision of PHHG is for safe roads, professional drivers, industry productivity gains and gender diversity. Its strategic mission statement is to avert projected national heavy vehicle driver shortages through the provision of 160 hours professional development opportunities to newly licensed drivers from across Australia as a stepping stone to commencement of road transport sector traineeships.

Having been presented with the FH16 in Melbourne, PowerTorque was invited to join Heather Jones for the run across to Karratha and to find out more about the PHHG and its achievements.

Our first stop on leaving Melbourne was to head for Ballarat and the MaxiTRANS factory where we coupled up to a brand new Maxi-CUBE Classic refrigerated trailer that we would deliver to Perth on its behalf. It would have been good to add a load on board, but as the new trailer was destined for a West Australian customer it wasn’t appropriate. The upside being that we didn’t face the prospect of a 4600 km trip running bobtail.

Passing through Adelaide we called in to South Central Trucks in Adelaide to catch up with the guys at the latest CMV-owned Volvo and Mack Truck centre in South Australia. This is a great facility and provided us with the chance to see at firsthand the level of commitment that is part of the infrastructure supporting the brand.

From Adelaide it was off towards the Nullarbor and then to Perth, where we dropped the still sparkling trailer at MaxiTRANS. Thanks to Truck Centre WA, the Perth Volvo and Mack dealership, we were able to wash the bugs off the truck before we were scheduled to appear at a specials schools presentation at the Nagle Catholic College at Geraldton.

Our thanks here to the staff and students at the College who made Heather and me very welcome and were keen to learn all about modern trucking and the prospects of a future career, plus a few tips on how to share the road with trucks safely.

On from Geraldton for another schools educational visit and then we headed up to Karratha, giving the FH it’s first taste of hard work in its new role, coupling up to three trailers for the haul from Onslow northbound.

Wow, with 700 hp on tap and an I-Shift transmission the truck never gave the impression that it couldn’t easily match its 130-tonne rating. Throughout the drive it proved its ability to stay in 12th gear, even on the incline from Onslow where most combinations are forced to drop back one or two ratios to maintain progress.

“The plan with PHHG is to provide training for four to eight girls every second month to give them on-the-job work experience,” said Heather Jones.

“Each girl that comes through PHHG has three mentors for life, who they can call at any time for advice. We stress the importance that the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.

“You learn by asking questions. Every part of this industry is different. A driver also has to be able to stand up and say if something is dangerous or can’t be done. It’s a question of being professional at all times and that includes personal presentation and the right way to work with customers and clients.

“They come with their licence, and, while we don’t guarantee employment, we have companies waiting to employ our people. Not just in WA, but also Victoria, Queensland, NSW and South Australia. The trainees finish our course with 160 hours of PHHG training, signed off and validated in a logbook and supported by their three mentors for life.

“The idea for PHHG all came about after I started driving trucks 25 years ago before I had the kids. My introduction was: here are the keys, I’ll show you how to change a tyre, here’s a bar and off you go. One of the first trucks I drove didn’t even have a proper seat! I sat on an upturned milk crate with a cushion on top until the site manager saw it and ordered the truck off–site. After that I decided there had to be a better way, where truck driving was considered a profession along the same lines as airline pilots.

“All I had been shown was pretty much nothing. You just hoped that you knew what the buttons were on the dash. Up and down the highway I would often hear the same thing that there was nowhere you could go to be trained and no one there to ask questions.

“A licensed truck driver may be driving a one-million dollar rig and yet they might not have any extra training. We need to raise the profile and the standards for the benefit of the entire industry. The wrong attitude comes from ignorance.

“To have Volvo and Mack Trucks come on board is absolutely huge for what we are trying to do. It shows that what we are doing does work, and it sets a new cutting edge for the next generation of drivers,” Heather added.

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