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WRF renews skills alert ahead of WA summit

Industry body questions federal Skills Priority List designation for truck drivers


The Western Roads Federation (WRF) has again flagged the Western Australian economic threat posed by shortages of truck drivers and mechanics.

The state industry association is also concerned that the federal government is hampered on what is actually a national issue, given the National Skills Commission’s (NSC’s) inaugural Skills Priority List (SPL), released a month ago, identified no shortage of truck drivers nationally or regionally.

“With a record harvest forecast, a mining super-cycle and record road construction expenditure the demand for transport and logistics services is booming,” WRF CEO Cam Dumesny told ATN.

“The problem is that there is simply not enough drivers, mechanics and specialist staff.

“To illustrate the point, just four of WRF’s member companies have a shortage of over 220 road train drivers for mining bulk haulage.

“Compounding the problem even further, is the critical shortage of mechanical trades-people to maintain and service the vehicles.

“Those same four companies currently have 110 unfilled vacancies.

“And that is not to mention the difficulty in obtaining spare parts and 12 month delays for new trucks and trailing equipment.”

The size of the problem escalates as other sectors of transport are included, Dumesny continued, citing:

  • Construction: Members are reporting shortages of drivers for concrete agitators and related transport construction tasks. So bad is the problem, that it is mooted as one of the factors for the WA government deliberately slowing down road and infrastructure projects.
  • Food Distribution and Online Delivery: Members in both of these transport activity segments are similarly reporting difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff, particularly due to leakage to the mining sector.
  • Port container transport: Similar issues are reported by members involved in port container transport, although their frustrations are compounded by declining port productivity and sky-rocketing non-productive costs.
  • Agriculture: There is genuine concern that a forecast bumper harvest may be risked due to a shortage of drivers and mechanics.

Read about the WRF’s earlier warning on the skills shortage impact, here 

Nor are eastern-state companies able to step into the breach easily.

“Some east coast transport operators have attempted to take advantage of WA’s booming economy only to find that they cannot recruit drivers and staff,” Dunesny noted.

He also raised wider ramifications that alternatives to Covid lockdowns might produce under these circumstances.

“The current UK ‘Pingdemic’ crisis and the recent closure of a distribution centre in Sydney serves as a timely lesson to remind us of the risk still posed by Covid,” Dunesny said.

“In the UK, a shortage of drivers and warehouse workers has led to food and fuel shortages.

“One factor in the shortage has been the automatic ‘ping alert’ to workers and drivers at risk sites to self-isolate.

“These pings occurring over multiple sites means that drivers and workers are effectively sent to the ‘sin bin’ for 14 days.

“When there are no effective reserves of drivers or mechanical staff, such a ping event in WA would cause real concern.”

WRF has been invited to attend the premier Mark McGowan’s summit tomorrow to address the growing skills crisis in WA.

National Skills Commission

“The recent National Skills Commission report failed to identify that there is a skilled driver shortage in any category in Australia, let alone Western Australia,” Dumesny said.

“That is clearly very embarrassing for the NSC to have got it so wrong.”

The Skills Priority List (SPL) does recognise a national shortage of transport and mechanical engineers, along with motor and diesel mechanics, though moderate future demand for all of them is expected.

Train drivers and controllers are also there, as are automotive electricians, with future demand seen as ‘soft’.

But though future demand for them is seen as ‘strong’, no shortage is identified for truck and tanker drivers.

They are joined by delivery drivers, fleet and transport company managers, furniture removalists, forklift drivers and storepersons, but with ‘moderate’ future demand.

It is not an issue confined to WA. In the most recent edition of ATN Magazine, Ron Finemore Transport stated it had about 80 positions it was keen to fill but lacked skilled recruits.

ATN is awaiting an NSC response on the apparent disconnect.

However, the SPL document did offer clues on the ratings methodology.

“An occupation may be assessed as being in shortage even though not all specialisations are in shortage,” the document stated.

Similarly, a rating of national shortage does not mean that employers in every geographical location have difficulty recruiting.

“While an occupation can be considered in shortage, it is still possible that job seekers can face significant competition for positions (due to the level of experience or specialisations required).

“Similarly, employers can still have difficulty recruiting for occupations that are not in shortage.

“Shortages exist when employers are unable to fill or have considerable difficulty filling

vacancies for an occupation, or significant specialised skill needs within that occupation, at current levels of remuneration and conditions of employment, and in reasonably accessible locations.

“In some instances, shortages may be apparent in particular specialisations within the occupation, but otherwise shortages are not apparent.

“In these instances, provided there is sufficient evidence, the occupation will still be considered in shortage.”

The SPL can be found here.


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