‘They simply don’t drive themselves’: Tasmanian truck driver shortage hitting freight sector

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A national shortage of truck drivers is causing “major challenges” as demand to move goods across Australia continues to rise, unabated by the pandemic.

The shortage is leading to increased competition for drivers across state lines and with industries outside the freight and logistics sector.

Tasmanian Transport Association executive director Michelle Harwood said her state alone could absorb another 100 truck drivers “at a minimum”.

The shortage is compounded by an aging workforce, which Ms Harwood said was “the oldest workforce in Tasmania”.

“Around 82 per cent of the land freight task falls to road and the trucks need somebody to drive them,” she said.

‘Our average age of a driver is in their 50s and so we’ve got a lot of drivers who will be retiring over the next 10 to 15 years,” she said.

“At the same time we’ve got a really big increase in the freight task.”

Need for the next generation

Tasmanian Transport Association executive director Michelle Harwood stands in front of a sign saying 'drivers wanted'Tasmanian Transport Association executive director Michelle Harwood stands in front of a sign saying 'drivers wanted'
Tasmanian Transport Association executive director Michelle Harwood says the truck driver shortage is a national problem.(

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The industry is hoping it can attract more young people, such as Devonport driver Tate Vanderfeen.

The 24-year-old got his start through a school-based apprenticeship and loves seeing the picturesque landscapes of Tasmania while driving trucks for De Bruyn’s Transport.

“I get to see some pretty cool sunrises, sunsets. I see a lot of the coast that you don’t normally see,” he said.

“It’s pretty fun and always changing. It’s something different every day.”

Tasmanian truck driver Tate Vanderfeen sitting behind the wheel of his big De Bruyn's truckTasmanian truck driver Tate Vanderfeen sitting behind the wheel of his big De Bruyn's truck
Tasmanian truck driver Tate Vanderfeen loves the picturesque views when he’s on the open road(

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The opportunity to “be your own boss, almost” attracted Mr Vanderfeen to the profession and he doesn’t know why more young people don’t give truck driving a go.

SRT Logistics serves the Tasmanian and Victorian markets and HR and compliance manager Joanne Tye said they were “constantly on the lookout for good, qualified, experienced drivers”.

“It’s not only us as a business but right across the industry,” she said.

The Western Australian government is also trying to tackle the problem, with a $6.1 million program to develop up to 1,000 new skilled drivers announced in February.

The state’s mining industry is particularly hungry for drivers and Ms Harwood said some companies were offering “good incentives” to secure new drivers.

Freight operators, such as Bruce Davey of Webster Trucks, are also crying out for more mechanics to service their fleet.

“The critical shortage of mechanical tradepersons is compromising the ability of heavy vehicle operators to meet the growing demands of the Tasmanian transport industry,” he said.

Keep them on the road

TruckSafe chair Ferdie Kroon stands with his arms crossed in front of a big 'safety' truckTruckSafe chair Ferdie Kroon stands with his arms crossed in front of a big 'safety' truck
TruckSafe chair Ferdie Kroon believes safety initiatives and training could help keep truck drivers in the industry.(

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While industry leaders mull initiatives to attract new talent, the industry’s training and safety protocols could prevent older drivers from exiting the field.

TruckSafe is an industry accreditation organisation that aims to improve the safety and professionalism of drivers across Australia.

Chair Ferdie Kroon said while safety initiatives can be met with “a little bit of pushback” from long-term employees, they were designed to keep workers safe and ensure “their longevity in the workplace”.

“We build those control measures to protect our drivers, our yard operators, our admin and logistics people and all the road users from incident and accident,” he said.

“That ensures those risk are well controlled and that encourages a lot more people to be part of the industry and to see us as being good road users.”

For some people, a career on the open road can be long and prosperous; Mr Kroon said he knows one driver in his 70s who still works the odd shift.

“They’re casual drivers still driving around and doing a fantastic job,” he said.

“And that’s because the TruckSafe scheme protects them as well as encourages us to continue to work with them later in their lives so they can still enjoy driving.”