Alex Fraser and Hanson Australia’s Trainee Driver Program is upskilling women to become full time truck drivers. Roads & Infrastructure sits down with Jeff Burns, Hanson Regional HR Manager and program graduate Mira Novak to learn more.
Truck driving has long been a male-dominated industry. According to 2021 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only about 2.9 per cent of truck drivers across the country are women.
This is why, in 2018, Alex Fraser and parent company Hanson Australia, conducted their first Trainee Driver Program, aiming to create new pathways for women to join the industry.
Specifically designed to increase women’s participation, the program provides candidates with an intensive five-week training course, licence testing for heavy rigid (HR) vehicles, followed by full-time employment as concrete agitator and tandem tipper drivers. The initial program successfully graduated seven women drivers.
Hanson repeated the program in April 2021 at Warrnambool in regional Victoria, training three women as agitator drivers for a local wind farm project. A larger course was run in November 2021 in Melbourne, upskilling and employing another 12 trainees.
Fast track to 2022 and Alex Fraser and Hanson Australia’s Trainee Driver Program continues to provide a unique and coveted pathway for women into full-time and rewarding truck-driving careers.
As Jeff Burns, Hanson Australia’s Regional Human Resources Manager explains, the training has gone from strength to strength.
“It’s a big boost for the participation of women in our business. We have trainees from all walks of life, including personal care attendants, chefs, retail assistants, traffic controllers, hospitality and hair and beauty specialists,” he says.
The trainee driver program
Participants begin the trainee driver program by applying online. Shortlisted applicants attend a group interview, where successful candidates are offered a position in the intensive training course. Trainees complete seven days of theoretical education, before the three weeks of driving under instruction. The training is based on the Superior Heavy Vehicle Licensing program, a Certificate III course developed by Wodonga TAFE and Driver Education Centre of Australia (DECA).
Upon completion, participants take on a full-time trainee driving role with either Alex Fraser or Hanson Australia, where they receive intensive on-the-job coaching and support from a highly experienced truck driver or trainer throughout their 10 days of induction.
To be eligible to obtain their Heavy Rigid (HR) license, Trainee Driver Program participants must have held a car licence for at least two years. Some of the more experienced program participants have held a HR or MR licence for at least 12 months, and have enrolled in the program to upskill to a Heavy Combination (HC) licence, enabling them to drive larger truck and trailers for Hanson and Alex Fraser.
Burns says the program has been a big success.
“It’s one of the most rewarding initiatives I’ve ever been a part of, which is making a real difference in the lives of the trainee women and their families. It’s heart-warming to see them succeed and go onto bigger and better things,” he says.
“Anyone from any walk of life, with the right attitude, is welcome.”
Burns adds that the program has also bolstered Alex Fraser and Hanson Australia’s recruitment efforts.
“The industry is short of sufficient driver talent. Back in 2018, there were around 10,000 driver jobs posted on Seek.com,” he says.
“The development of the Trainee Driver Program gives us access to a talent pool which was not available previously. Our initial training was funded externally, but it’s been so successful that we’ve continued to run it at our own expense.”
A graduate’s perspective
Trainee Driver Program Graduate Mira Novak was looking to re-enter the workforce after the birth of her second child. Having previously worked in aged care, Novak was interested in trying something new. When the ad for Alex Fraser and Hanson’s Trainee Driver Program appeared in her online newsfeed, Novak jumped at the opportunity.
“I was attracted to the program because it was open to women only, full training was provided, and because applicants would be given the opportunity to sit for their HR licence with full-time employment offered after the completion of the course,” she says.
“My sister is an electrician, and I asked her for advice about applying for the role and she was really encouraging, so I gave it a go.”
Novak is now a truck driver with Alex Fraser, after completing the inaugural Trainee Driver Program in 2018.
She says the ‘women only’ aspect of the course helped create a comfortable learning environment for her. Since completing the trainee program, she has also noticed a significant increase in the number of women joining the industry.
“The program felt like a safe space for me to learn. The women were very encouraging, and it was very much women supporting women,” she says.
“When I started, I didn’t see many women driving trucks. In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a lot more women driving or working in positions that have been traditionally filled by men. It’s great driving into sites and seeing women operating heavy machinery.”
Novak says the program developed her time management and customer service skills, too.
She strongly encourages women interested in truck driving careers to apply for the next Trainee Driver Programs by Alex Fraser and Hanson Australia; scheduled for August 8 and November 14.
“You have nothing to lose, and so much to gain from an experience like this,” she says.