Transport skills shortage hitting WA economy says WRF

By: Rob McKay


State body amplifies concern as firms caught short on contracts

Transport skills shortage hitting WA economy says WRF
Grain and mining transport issues are having a broader impact

 

Western Australian mining and agriculture companies are losing business due to transport constraints.

Despite months of warning of the coming transport skills crunch, certain businesses in the state are caught in a tightening bind involving anti-pandemic measures, the latest exports boom and chronically insufficient qualified labour supply.

And this is threatening to worsen as new infrastructure-building project come on line in the coming months.    

The clamour around a reported 50 per cent rise in demand for truck drivers in the state in the last four months leads state body Western Roads Federation (WRF) to highlight that both mining and agriculture companies are reporting direct financial impacts.

It notes reports already this month that:

  • The nation’s largest grain exporter, WA based CBH, has missed multiple international orders due to supply chain issues caused by a shortage of train and truck drivers
  • One of the largest WA mining companies, Mineral Resources Ltd (MRL) noting it had only shipped 8.5 million tonnes of the 10.1 million tonnes it had produced due to road haulage constraints.

The mining company states plainly in its quarterly exploration and mining activities report today that it "has experienced haulage constraints caused by a shortage of truck drivers resulting from the unplanned sudden state border closures, implemented following Covid-19 outbreaks around the country.

"This shortage has meant that, on average, hauling capacity of approximately 10,000 wmt per day otherwise available to MRL was sitting idle.

"FY21 guidance of 19.5m wmt to 20.5m wmt was based on an expected increase in shipments aligning with production.

"It is not clear when these haulage issues will be resolved and, therefore, iron ore shipment guidance for FY21 is now expected to be in the 17.4m to 18.0m wmt range."


Read how WRF raised skills-shortage concerns last year, here


WRF warned last September that skills crunch would burden the state’s economy but takes some comfort at the wider recognition of the problem.

"These impacts are due to shortages of skilled truck drivers and mechanics combined with delays in the delivery of additional new trucks ordered by their road haulage contractors to meet increased demand," WRF director Cam Dumesny tells ATN.

"The reports by both of these companies are only the tip of the iceberg, as businesses in nearly every sector of the WA economy are feeling the pain of the road transport issues."

"On the positive side, it is public recognition by customers and government that they are dependent on road transport and that we really do drive the WA economy.

"On the downside it is placing real pressure both financial and emotional on transport companies to meet the growing pressures being placed on them by customers."

Unfortunately, the WRF notes, there is no short term fix.

"Whilst we have commenced training a 1,000 new truck drivers over the next 18 months, finding suitable people to do the course in a low WA unemployment market will be very challenging," Dumesny says.

"Especially when so many other sectors of the WA economy are on a recruitment drive as well.

"The mechanics issues is really concerning, as they take three to four years to train. 

"Already the leakage to the mines of mechanics is affecting road transport and even anecdotally people trying to get their car serviced in Perth.

"We have written to the deputy prime minister asking for support to allow the prioritisation of mechanics under sponsored migration, given the long lead time to train local people."

WRF notes WA business sector representative groups have expressed a keen interest to work with it on developing and supporting a strategy to address the key factors driving the road transport disruption.

"This strategy will have to address the skills shortage, road transport profitability and productivity," Dumesny says.

 

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