Up-and-coming truckie's ideas for the future
TWENTY-year-old university student and truck driver James Blok has heard it all.
He's been told the road transport game isn't the same as it used to be, that there's no camaraderie and no time for your mates anymore and that it's too tough on a family.
But if the trucking business is going to survive, James reckons they need to learn to share the positives.
Otherwise, what reason would he - and other people his age - have to become truck drivers?
James was listening to an episode of The Big Rigs Podcast, when Glenn "Yogi” Kendall, of Outback Truckers fame, started speaking out on the driver shortage problems the industry was facing and thought a young person's perspective like his might be helpful.
"I've come across (a lot of people) who say you don't want to be in this game, it's rough and it's tough on a family, it's really hard,” he said.
"But I saw a video with the Easter family and they were talking about what the industry did for them. They said it can be tough but it's also very rewarding.
"That's what I think. Sure there's some long hours and my girlfriend gets a bit annoyed with me wanting to wash my truck every weekend and have an immaculate fleet, but there's nothing better than driving and seeing a truck that you associate with. For me that's so special.
"Forgetting what the older generation says, there's still a lot of positives to this business - it's incredible with a lot of great people.”
James grew up in Lismore and thanks to his grandfather's job as a freight agent for Australian Air Express (which is now part of Star Track Australia Post Group), he took a love to the job.
"My grandfather and I were very close and I took a love to it and he showed me the ropes. He was always never very sure of me going into freight but I took a liking and a love to it and I started washing trucks as soon as I could reach a broom,” he said.
He's spent time with DHL, Toll and now works for a global freight provider, which has allowed him to travel overseas to the Netherlands and New Zealand and see how things are done there.
But, for the sake of the future of the industry, he said there needs to be a positive focus on what makes it such a great career.
"See how agriculture has changed, it's gone from just a farmer with cows and a tractor to a global resource that we all need and we can see how that industry has changed and how the academics of it has changed,” he said.
"I think that change really needs to happen for road transport too. There's a stigma involved that should be there and there needs to be people focused on the positives saying this is a business that you can have a career in for life and for me, I can't see myself doing anything else.
"If there's not that positivity, when why would people want to come and work here? The US is going through a driver shortage too and if people don't speak to the rewards of the business, then why are people my age going to want to get a heavy combination licence and go drive? They're just not going to.”
James said he thought there were multiple factors that contributed to the driver shortage and agreed with Yogi's statements in the podcast that "everyone had a part to play”.
"Stigma, pay rates, industry conditions, they all have something to do with it. I think there's nothing that is going to fix that overnight, but I think there needs to be a collective body working towards it and more driver education,” he said.
He said one way to fix the driver shortage would be to start at a high school or university level where students were shown what it's like and what it could do for them.
"There is a ground level of education but it's not really in your face so maybe that is something. I'd like to see more young people (becoming drivers) but we don't live in a perfect world.”
James said the industry needed to get better about speaking about itself.
"The public needs to know we're here as a service provider and without us Australia stops kinda stuff. I think if people can see that hey, it's not that bad and that trucks driving beside us on the highway isn't bad. People see a b-double on the highway and go wow, that's scary, but chances are that the machine they're driving has more safety than in the car,” he said.
"People need to be aware and think, that truck is carrying the milk that I'll use for my cereal or the cosmetics that will go in my make-up. If people started to go, 'hey this is a core and vital business', we'd find more people. It's not going to paint a perfect picture but I think it starts with us, with people taking the good parts about it. You can have bad days and there's dark days, I've seen a little bit but not as much as the older guys, but there's plenty of upsides to moving freight and the people you meet.
"The camaraderie is still there, even though they say it's not, it's still there. I think we'll go a lot better in trying to promote young people into the business.”
He said people needed to realise that there was more to the road transport business than just "getting behind the wheel”.
"They just don't have to drive trucks, you don't have to be sitting in a Kenworth. There is so much more. Sure, trucks is the main part of the transport business but from a logistics point of view, there are so many things,” he said.
In working for a global freight company, James said he had a few opportunities to travel overseas and learn from other drivers and businesses.
"I spent a week in the Netherlands at Mainfreight. I spent a day with a Dutch truck driver and would you believe there's so many similarities between two people thousands of kilometres away, someone who's here who drives a DAF and someone there who drives a DAF, there's no difference in operation, just the way they go about it and that's a cultural thing. Just looking at how it's done in Europe is different to Australia and just the level of communication within the technology and how they manage their freight,” he said.
"I was very grateful I was able to do that.”
James, who is studying an undergraduate degree in commerce at Bond University at the Gold Coast and hopes to go continue with a masters in logistics, said having that experience of seeing how the industry operated on a global scale helped give his university studies a much broader approach.
"When we're having discussions about things like logistics and supply chain, we can talk about it on a global basis rather than just with an Australian set of eyes. It's a much broader approach to how logistics has become a necessity to not only Australia, but the world.”
As for why he felt it was important to continue with his studies and work as a truck driver, James said his father taught him that "education could never be taken from you” and with the right education, you could look at things with much more detail and a finer eye.
He acknowledged that university was not for everyone, and sometimes he would "much rather be outside delivering freight than in class” but it was able to give him a much more rounded approach and a more diversified eye when looking at obstacles in the business.