Trucking industry booming but facing driver shortages and aging workforce

Aging and dwindling workforce hits booming trucking sector

Machinery
KEEP ON TRUCKING: The road transport sector is gearing up for major growth despite an aging workforce and a shortage of drivers.

KEEP ON TRUCKING: The road transport sector is gearing up for major growth despite an aging workforce and a shortage of drivers.

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A new report has underlined the problem of labour shortages in the booming trucking sector.

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Labour shortages are a key challenge for Australia's booming road transport industry which is triggering major investment in better and safer trucks to retain drivers.

The transport sector has the second oldest workforce behind agriculture and almost 50 per cent of business owners (with six trucks or more) expect the availability of skilled drivers will be a big problem during the next 12 months.

However, operators are looking ahead with confidence and 68pc of them believe electric trucks will play a major role in the future of the industry.

But most believe the widespread introduction of electric trucks is facing some major obstacles including the lack of charging infrastructure and the general unpreparedness of the industry to make the switch.

These findings were contained in a 72-page Future of Trucking Report prepared by independent research company ACA Research for Isuzu Australia based on surveys with more than 1000 transport decision-makers.

The research found many trucking companies had enjoyed buoyant business demand despite the COVID 19 lockdowns and the outlook for the sector out to 2030 was for solid growth.

Truck traffic was predicted to jump by 25 per cent by the end of the decade.

Ongoing increase in online shopping was helping drive the growth in truck traffic, the report said.

Meanwhile, 35pc of small fleet owners are completely unprepared or unaware of their responsibilities under the Chain of Responsibility (CoR) requirements which aim to raise safety along the road transport chain.

With the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator now actively prosecuting breaches, the report said many smaller fleet owners needed support to implement CoR risk identification and management.

Isuzu Australia national service manager Brett Stewart said a raft of industry regulatory changes such as the recently introduced COVID-19 specific freight movement code and freight movement protocol may be one reason for the lack of engagement with CoR but the industry needed to do much better.

Isuzu Australia chief of strategy Grant Cooper said road transport in Australia was on a path to decarbonisation.

He said while the two alternate power sources showing the most promise - battery electric (BEV) and fuel cell electric (FCEV) - were dominating debate on the future of the industry, the realities of transitioning to such technologies were only now starting to be understood by operators.

"While it is true the operational cost of an electric truck relative to a diesel truck is less (due to energy efficiency, reduced maintenance and reduced parts), an electric truck has to overcome a sizeable upfront cost handicap in the form of additional, expensive componentry.

"As it presently stands the battery can account for up to a third of the build cost of an electric vehicle, a cost that doesn't exist at the outset with diesel.

"And although battery densities increase and battery cost per kilowatt hour decreases, it is currently not progressing at a pace fast enough to tip the economic balance in customers' favour.

"As a means to offset these additional costs, Australia has little assistance from a political and a regulatory standpoint.

"In contrast, our peers in Europe and the US enjoy substantial incentives for commercial vehicles. There is no electric truck solution in the Australian commercial vehicle market that can compete on cost parity with its diesel equivalent," Mr Cooper said.

"An electric truck is yet to get near its diesel equivalent."

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