Young drivers the key to a looming shortage

Could a truck-driving apprenticeship be a solution to the looming driver shortage in Australia, and lead to better safety on our roads? The Leocata brothers think so.

The first thing you notice when talking to Adrian and Marcus Leocata is their intense focus on young driver development and safety. The brothers grew up around trucks since their parents Joe and Sharon made the name Leocata synonymous with transport in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley region over three decades ago. As a result, they reckon they’ve seen enough changes in the industry to offer some solutions to what they see as real challenges. 

Adrian, 29 and Marcus, 31 are both passionate advocates for getting younger drivers into the industry, and Adrian thinks that a trucking apprenticeship is long overdue.

“Chippies get three years – why not drivers? At the end of the day, these trucks are a 68-tonne lethal weapon and without the right training it can get very messy, very quickly,” he says. 

“Being green and fresh out of a licence school doesn't cut it. Drivers should have more training, rather than just being out on the road the next day. You need to learn how to load correctly and how to drive to conditions. You don't just stop a truck on a 10c piece out on the road,” he adds. 

It’s a message the brothers are keen to press. With the average driver age in Australia now 48, the Leocata brothers have their eye on the pipeline of younger drivers. 

“We need to acknowledge drivers as professionals. They’re not just a driver in a dirty blue singlet anymore. You need to be really switched on to drive a B-double,” Adrian says. 

In addition to better safety, driving professionally means better outcomes for the bottom line. The brothers say that the combination of new truck technology and buddying experienced drivers with new recruits has the potential to deliver significant savings in an industry where margins are tight. 

“If you teach a bloke the right way about gear shifts and keeping his focus on the road, your little one percent costs such as fuel, tyres, brakes all add up to savings,” Marcus says. 

Adrian says that he even saved on insurance premiums after adopting the Bendix Wingman safety system in the three new Mack Super-Liners they recently added to their 32-strong fleet. 

“The Bendix lane-departure technology stopped a lot of our blind spot accidents on the left-hand side, merging in traffic," he said. “It’s a lot easier for the driver concentration-wise, it’s one less thing they have to worry about. If there’s a car there, then the Bendix beeps and they know that they need to stick in their lane for a bit longer.” 

But Marcus acknowledges there are challenges to attracting young blood to the industry. Fines for clerical errors can add up quickly and the long hours can be gruelling on families.  

“Driving is more of a lifestyle than a job and young drivers need to have family backing if they have partners. They need that support, because essentially they’re not home,” Marcus says. 

The brothers’ focus on young blood and safety led to Leocata’s Transport, located at Tatura 200km north of Melbourne and with a staff of nearly 90 people, establishing an apprenticeship scheme of their own. When a 15-year-old showed up at the yard looking for work, he was told to come back a year later. 

To Adrian’s surprise, he showed up on the day of his sixteenth birthday. 

“I told him, ‘here’s some gumboots, get on the trucks and give it a wash,’” he says. 

From there, the young driver started backing trucks around the yard and learning how to load. Leocata’s Transport helped him get his rigid and then semi licence, before sending him into Melbourne on runs. After that, it was interstate runs and the B-double licence. 
 
“And now he’s out running interstate doing five-and-a-half thousand kilometres in a B-double at only 22. He’s been with the company for six years,” Adrian says proudly. 

Marcus sees only positives out of the scheme and thinks that his own experience means he owes something to the industry. 

“Adrian and I were young blokes in the industry when we started and we were lucky in that we had the old man to back us. Young blokes deserve a go. You've got to take a gamble on people sometimes and the majority of the time you get that return back out of them,” he says. 

The program is a solution to what Adrian and Marcus see as a much more serious issue in the industry around driver development, training and safety. They’re keen to tap into the knowledge and experience of older drivers before they retire.  

“The average age of the drivers in our company is approaching 60 and you can't learn in your licence test what you can learn from these blokes. How to load, how to strap, how to chain. We need to use that knowledge from these blokes before it is lost to the industry,” Marcus says. 

Potential breakout box

Mack Trucks offer a comprehensive driver coaching programme, covering aspects such as road safety, fuel economy and fatigue management. To get the most out of your trucks you need to start with the driver. Ask your dealer for more information.