The Pied Piper of Aussie trucking
TRUCKING veteran Warren Meissner is somewhat of the Pied Piper of the Australian trucking industry.
During the past 20 years, it's highly unlikely anyone has done more than him to attract young adults to the national trucking scene.
Renowned for his heart of gold and his successful trucking business, Warren has devoted the past two decades of his life helping young people find a pathway into the sector.
During that time he has mentored - some say to the detriment of his own business - more than 3000 young Australians, first through his transport company, and more recently via his private training organisation in South Australia.
"It's not always about the money - it's about giving these young people something that makes them want to get out of bed every day and contribute to society," said Warren, who turns 60 next month.
"Money is important and is handy but it's not the be all and end all.
"It's all about mentoring the young ones. You need to build their confidence, be patient with them to allow them to practice - and they will naturally get better and better - and then they start coming up with really good ideas... and away you go.
"We focus on good old- fashioned customer service... and the youngsters of today can relate to that if you can get to them early.
"What we aim to do is try to inspire them to be the very best they can.
"To get them to turn up every day with a smile on their face, get involved in something they enjoy, go home tired and satisfied - and then come back the next day and do it all again."
Warren's foray into training began in 1999 when he started visiting schools around his home in Strathalbyn, in South Australia's Adelaide Hills.
He would take one of his trucks to a high school and let the students jump behind the wheel to "see what the view was like".
Kids who showed more than a passing interest were then invited to help him load hay in nearby paddocks on weekends.
That led a few years later to him working at VTECH Automotive, a private training organisation (trade school) based at Davoren Park, in Adelaide's northern suburbs.
In typical fashion, Warren threw all his skills and motivation into the business - to the point where he bought out the founding owner in 2005.
VTECH offers 11 qualifications in Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF) Automotive Training Packages including Agriculture Mechanical Technology, Heavy Vehicle Road Transport and Light Vehicle - both in a classroom/trade school environment, as well as on-site training.
As well as its base at Davoren Park, the organisation also conducts accredited training at other sites around South Australia including Strathalbyn, Bordertown, Meningie and the West Coast.
At its height, the organisation - which works with the public school system to attract students - had 300 youths a year passing through its doors.
In recent years, due to cuts to State Government funding, that figure has dropped to about 100.
"I literally got into training due to frustration," said Warren, who credits his grandparents and parents, and growing up on a farm in the Adelaide Hills, for giving him his sense of community spirit.
"I owned a transport company that was transporting milk through the Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu Peninsula, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"At our peak, we had five trucks and 13 drivers.
"I got frustrated trying to find good drivers so thought to myself I needed to train and develop them myself.
"So I started taking out potential employees in the truck one-on-one to mentor them and teach them the way you want them to do things... the right way.
"The transport industry is a service industry... it's all about the customer service you are providing.
"Whether you're driving truck, fixing a truck, whatever - customers need good service... they need a safe, reliable vehicle.
"And that's what we reinforce with the kids - it doesn't matter if you're changing the oil, pumping up the tyres or changing the mud flaps - they're all part of a team effort where everyone pitches in and plays an important role.
"It goes right back to my grandparents and my parents - that sense of community involvement - do it as a team, do it together.
"To give without also expecting something in return and not measuring things in dollars."
SA Road Transport Association president Sharon Middleton was glowing in her praise of Warren's commitment to mentoring young people in the national trucking scene.
"Warren's passion for the road transport industry is what truly drives him," Ms Middleton said.
"Providing career pathways and opportunities for young and upcoming contributors to the industry are paramount to Warren.
"His unwavering commitment to road safety - particularly educating our young to share the road safely - is both award- winning and outstanding.
"Warren's personal sacrifices of his time and resources are enormous - all driven by his love of the industry.
"There aren't too many other people in this industry who have devoted the past 20 years of their life to encouraging and mentoring young people with the same devotion and commitment as Warren."