HEATHER Jones is doing her bit to lower the driver’s skills gap.
The gap that exists after you get your HR, HC or MC licence and don’t yet have the experience to get a job driving the trucks you want to drive.
Ms Jones founded and is the chief executive officer of the Pilbara Heavy Haulage girls and last year won the Australian Trucking Association’s Most Outstanding Contribution to the Australian Road Transport Sector award for her work training truckies.
She has a waiting list of 500 men and women who want on-the-job big rigs training.
Since the Scotts fiasco she’s had numerous phone calls from people saying the industry had been flooded with overseas workers on visas, something the TWU has said was illegal.
She’s had women crying, telling her they’ve tried in vain to get a job driving trucks, something they’ve wanted to do all their lives, but because they have a lack of on-the-job experience they can’t get a foot in the door.
Ms Jones said she could not take on all who asked for help, and the waiting list kept growing.
However, she said she had trained 37 drivers in the past eight to nine years, all of who had secured jobs.
Her 160-hour boot camps for drivers may seem like a short amount of time, but learning on the job in harsh environments will give you the skills you need to operate in any conditions.
Already heavy vehicle licenced drivers get to try their hand at tippers, over-size loads, tilt tray and pilot vehicles. They get experience in all kinds of load restraint, and cart all types of freight.
“It’s a good overview of everything,” Ms Jones said.
She said it was harder for women to get a job, and that was why her training was targeted at females.
“A woman with no experience has no hope. A young fella with an HR, whose dad’s a truckie, will get an interview,” she said.
One woman she talked to had applied for 300 jobs.
“If it can be done by a female then why aren’t we using them. Girls don’t bull dust,” she said.
Her training is so sought after she has been approached by big companies asking to employ her drivers.
Now she has managed to gain a land grant for a purpose-built training centre in the Pilbara region, and once built it will service those who have their licence but need real-world experience to get a job.
The facility is still in the research and development stage, and the training package has been written, but is yet to be certified.
The program will offer training in real-life work experience situations.
But Ms Jones said multi-national companies should be doing their bit to help train drivers who already had their licence.
At last year’s Trucking Australia conference she asked a room full of transport operators to just take on one inexperienced driver, to train them the way they want their drivers trained, to their standards.
The concept was met with mixed reactions.
“I’ll be dead before I can do the 500,” Ms Jones said.
On the topic of using overseas workers, she is quite vocal.
She is worried about inexperienced drivers coming at her on the roads, and even more concerned that there are plenty of people already in Australia who want to drive trucks who cannot get a go.
“It’s not prejudiced,” she said.
Instead it was about what training they had received and how they had been driving all their lives.
“I don’t care where you’ve come from,” she said “but you need skills to drive a heavy vehicle.”
In her operation she is not always the cheapest but she has “brilliant service”.
“We all love a bargain,” she said, but warned “the cheap option is not always the best”..
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