In the trucking industry there is a lot of talk about how difficult it is to get drivers and how there is a skilled labour shortage and not much about how, within the industry, two cultures clash.
This is a genuine crisis for the trucking industry. However, it is also a crisis for the rest of Australian society. Many other industries are complaining about the inability to get skilled workers or even competent workers to do many jobs. On the other hand the difference between the trucking industry and many of these other industries, who are struggling at the moment for people, is that we also have a major ageing workforce crisis which has been building up for well over 20 years. I certainly have been writing about this for most of those 20 years.
It is true that young people in Australia today do not want to do a job which is regarded as being low status and also involves being away from home on a regular basis. This is not a recent problem. This is a problem which has been affecting to the industry for a long time. A lot of the issues come from the cultures within the industry.
That older cohort who are still working up to and beyond retirement age came into the industry during the 70s and 80s. This was not a good time for trucking. The work was hard. The regulations were not enforced in a meaningful way.
The highways of Australia were a battleground between overzealous police and drivers pushing the limits of their physical ability to work ridiculous hours. There was also an expectation upon the driver to fix their own truck.
Changing a tyre by the side of the highway was the least of it. Any driver worth their salt would have with them a substantial toolkit with a selection of spare parts to fix issues which regularly came along.
For those who came into the modern trucking industry it’s quite a difficult culture to understand. For those who came into the industry after the period in the 90s, as the trucking industry cleaned up its act, and the larger fleets got much larger, there has always been a culture of being compliant and also relying upon services to come and change fix any truck or trailer problems. At the same time, the trucks coming into the industry were much more reliable, they didn’t break down.
At the same time as all of this happened, a massive upswing in the level of safety requirements in all work situations turned safety from an optional extra to an absolute imperative which overrides many other aspects of running a business in Australia.
So here we have two groups of people, the older drivers on one side, young entrants to the trucking industry on the other and their concept of the trucking industry is almost diametrically opposed.
Older truckies are used to working on their own initiative, being self reliant, trying to get away with a couple of dodgy tricks. Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation are people working in a vibrant and efficient trucking industry who have been imbued with the whole compliance and safety structure on which the modern trucking industry has been built. They have very little understanding of those self reliant ageing truckies in their fleet.
One of the problems is we don’t have enough of those young people coming into the industry to allow those older drivers to move out of the industry when retirement age comes around. The truck driver shortage means their employers will do anything to keep them on. Make it easier for them to carry on doing their job well into their 60s and 70s.
This is a good short term fix but it doesn’t fix the main problem. There is a culture within the industry which is born out of the tough life that a truckie had to live over 25 years ago, but we also have corporate governance, regulation and safety concerns which are almost the exact opposite of that.
This is a dilemma facing many trucking operations who would happily move some of those older drivers out of the frontline in their business, but don’t have enough skilled capable operators to move into the business.
Is there a solution? It’s hard to say. What we do know is that one way or another there is going to be substantial disruption to the trucking and distribution industry because the workforce needs to be imbued with one particular culture while another section of the workforce find that new culture difficult to swallow.