Volvo Group Australia president Peter Voorhoeve has signaled that the Swedish maker will be announcing a major initiative to answer the growing shortage of quality truck drivers in Australia.

In an extended interview with Voorhoeve, Transport & Trucking learnt that a great deal of ground work has been carried out by VGA including initiating a research program to ascertain the major concerns and demands from the company’s 20 biggest customers.

Overwhelmingly and not surprisingly, the biggest concern was the lack of drivers and the lack of driver talent, a situation that Volvo and Voorhoeve believe is their duty to try to help its customers address.

“I believe we have a responsibility and we want to do more,” Voorhoeve told T&TA.

“I realised we have a crisis and that crisis is driver availability. This is the topic we need to focus on,” he said.

“The transport task is growing, it will double between 2010 and 2030 and we can see that already with the boom in e-commerce and the way we are doing our shopping as well as the growth of our population. We are not getting new drivers in and the average age of drivers is now around 52years old and we have a problem with driver availability, so if we don’t do anything the slogans on the bumper stickers will come true, Australia will stop,” said Voorhoeve.

“Volvo Group is selling one in every four heavy trucks on Australia roads that means we should be doing more than just offering hardware and services, we have a duty to address this,” he added.

VGA commissioned research through Clemenger BBDO and tasked them with finding out what is going on in the transport market and to find out what its customers are really worried about. The research program is about half way completed but a lot of trends have emerged and given Volvo some indicators, which they appear to be acting on.

“We wanted to know what is really going on and driver availability is one of the key issues and it is driven by the image of truck drivers, it is not a good image and this is inhibiting younger people from entering the industry,” said Voorhoeve.

“The industry is attracting some young men but not nearly enough and certainly not enough young women. The fact is 50 per cent of the population is female but only about five per cent of truck drivers are female, that means we are missing out on a huge pool of potential drivers and it is all to do with the image of the job of driving a truck,” he added.

The VGA president said the company wants to focus on that and would like to help the trucking industry and its customers to solve this problem.

“Once upon a time the industry saw driving as a trade, you would hire a 16 year old to work in the yard, learning the way the business ran, cleaning up and helping with loading and then he would progress to driving the trucks around the yard and manoeuvring them and then would step up. Slowly after three years they would start driving on local routes and so on.

“That trade has gone and we need to re establish that,” said Voorhoeve.

Voorhoeve underlined the problem by revealing that this year alone around 20 per cent of the Australian truck driving workforce will reach retirement age.

“If we have 200,000 truck drivers in this country that means that 40,000 could retire this year, which is alarming it would be a big drain on the,” he said.

Volvo’s research has so far involved its 20 largest customers, which is a fair cross section of the Australian Transport industry. The next phase is more qualitative research and opening it up to a wider audience

The company signalled that it will be announcing some major initiatives for the industry during its annual trade press media conference at the Melbourne Truck Show early next month.

T&TA was also able to conduct a video interview with the Volvo boss, the first of our planned series of conversations with the bosses of Australian truck manufacturers, which we are calling, Coffee with the CEOs. Voorhoeve is the first cab off the rank and the video discussion will be up on our website and YouTube in the very near future and will be followed by all of the CEOs of the major truck companies