A woman with her arms folded stands in front of a truck.

Push to attract more female truck drivers as freight demand puts stress on supply chains

Corrina Riley has been driving a truck for two decades and says she loves her big rig almost as much as her two children.

“The men know they don’t stand a chance with me, because they know how much I love my truck,” she said.

Queensland-based Ms Riley drives a 2012 Peterbilt 388, which she has nicknamed “Salacious Pete” and is currently doing the berry season, running from Caboolture into the markets.

“I like the hard work about it… it’s very challenging and tiring most of the time, but someone’s got to do it.”

Even when schools were closed during the COVID pandemic, Ms Riley continued to transport freight and brought her 11-year-old son along with her.

Corrina home-schooled her child in her truck during school closures in the pandemic.(ABC News: Marton Dobras)

“For three to four months, I home-schooled him in the truck,” she said.

“It’s my job, so you’ve got to find a way to work and be a mum.”

It comes as trucking companies look to recruit mothers who may have the opportunity to transport freight between school hours or on overnight shifts, to help combat driver shortages and increasing freight demand.

Dashboard of Corrina Riley's 2012 Peterbilt 388 truck
Ms Riley currently runs berries from Caboolture to the markets.

Ms Riley said the industry’s push toward creating a work-life balance for mothers has allowed her to develop her own career.

“I’ve been very fortunate with a few companies who let me drop off my son at before-school care and then go to work,” she said.

“So they were really lenient, and they knew I had to pick my child up from school, so we need a lot, a lot more of that.”

Work life balance

South-East Queensland Hauliers deputy managing director Nathan Craner said his company was trying to adapt its structure and recruitment strategy to modern conditions.

“We’re looking at how else we can attract people into this industry,” he said.

“One of them, for example, is looking at female drivers because there’s half the market there that we’re not tapping into and that we’re not advertising exceptionally well to.”

Two men standing in a shipping yard.
South-East Queensland Hauliers Deputy Managing Director Nathan Craner (left) and SEQ Hauliers driver-trainer Dan Walter (right). (ABC NewsAlice Pavlovic)

Mr Craner said the company was offering more flexible hours for women who potentially have family commitments in the mornings and afternoons, like school pick-up and drop-off.

“So we’re opening up opportunities for part-time shifts or casual work for female drivers,” he said.

“Whilst it’s a short-term band-aid [for supply chain issues]that’s potentially a long-term entry, so that once that family grows up, and those children become adults, you might have a female driver that’s looking for a full-time position.”

Followmont Transport CEO Mark Tobin said his company was also trying to recruit women in regional areas, where they were experiencing more acute shortages.

A sign on the front of a truck reading 'Without Trucks Australia Stops'
Drivers are particularly needed in regional areas.(ABC NewsAlice Pavlovic)

“What we’re looking at is how do you get mums that would be at home, who can still work five to six hours a day, pick the kids up, and give them that work-life balance,” he said.

Mr Tobin said it was also important to ensure facilities, like bathrooms and rest-stops along the highway network, were updated so that workers felt comfortable.

Eliminating gender bias

Only 4 per cent of drivers in Australia are female, and Ms Riley said attracting more women to the industry was also going to require a shift in attitudes.

“I think the gender bias is the worst. Back when I first started in 2004, it wasn’t as prominent … these days, with the younger generation, it’s terrible out there,” she said.

“Especially around the towns, that’s where it’s the worst.”

The front of a Mack truck.
Ms Riley says training and mentorship programs would help attract more women.(ABC NewsAlice Pavlovic)

Ms Riley, who is a board director for Women in Trucking Australia, said one way to get more women on the roads was through training and mentorship programs.

“And the less gender bias there is, the more women there will be.”

Younger truck driver Jade Harney with forklift behind her
Jade Harney started her career through an internship program.(ABC News: Audrey Courty)

Jade Harney, 22, started her career two years ago when she excelled in an internship program at Followmont.

“Getting more women involved would be awesome, through internships or programs like that, getting more girls involved would be really good,” she said.

“I started as a forklift driver, I went onto my [heavy vehicle] license, and I hope to go further. There’s a lot of opportunity in transportation.

“If you don’t think you can do it, like I thought I couldn’t do it: do it, because you can absolutely do it.”

A delay in supply chains

Mr Tobin said the trucking industry was struggling to manage the ever-growing volume of freight tasks, which was predicted to increase by 25 per cent in the next decade.

“The freight task is getting to the point where we can’t keep up – we just do not have enough people in the industry to support what the freight task is in Australia,” he said.

“There’s going to be a delay in supply chains. The shelves are going to be affected come Christmas.

A row of Mack trucks.
Only 4 per cent of drivers in Australia are female.(ABC NewsAlice Pavlovic)

Mr Craner said between 10 to 20 per cent of his fleet was absent on any given day due to sickness and COVID disruptions.

“It’s impacting business because we’ve got plenty of opportunities, where by customers are saying ‘we have the work and we want to trust you with the business’, and our delay is actually accepting that work because of the driver shortage,” he said .

Driver-trainer Dan Walter said the shortage also puts more pressure on current drivers.

“We’re working longer hours, spending less time at home and more time at work,” he said.

Mr Craner said the COVID pandemic made the struggle of recruiting and retaining drivers worse.

“The challenge to get drivers on board is just higher and higher,” he said.

“The overall time to recruit and then hire and onboard a driver is exceptionally longer than it used to be.”

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