A NSW not-for-profit helping to plug the shortage of truck drivers has the attention of Federal Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O'Connor, thanks to a recent Ai Group conference in Canberra.

Joblink Plus, which delivers employment services and vocational training to rural and regional communities that cover about 70 per cent of the state, is achieving remarkable success with its truck driver training, designed with the long-term unemployed in mind.

Eighty per cent of drivers that complete Joblink Plus training move straight into employment, and more than 70 per cent stay there for at least 26 weeks.

“Through our training, participants who haven’t worked in some time and are interested in a career in driving are able to drive a truck within days,” CEO Christine Shewry said.

“If you’ve been long-term unemployed, you may need three or four days of training to achieve a level where you're confident and an employer would be confident in your ability.

“However, many truck driver training courses run for just a day; they are not focused on people who have been long-term unemployed. Ours is, and it's working.”

Joblink Plus is keen to expand its services but current government funding is a constraint as it doesn't cover costs.

“As a not-for-profit organisation, we are covering the gap which limits the investment we can make in growing the service," Ms Shewry said.

"This is the issue I raised with Minister O’Connor at the Ai Group event in Canberra.

“He said: ‘If it’s working, you've got me. I would like to talk to you more about it.’”

Ms Shewry is using the lifeline to call for funding for training specifically aimed at people who are long-term unemployed — those who have been out of work for more than two years.

"The people we work with need more than a day of instruction in truck driving," she said.

“We make sure that everyone who trains with us experiences a variety of road conditions: different terrains and different locations so they are truly confident.

“Our commitment to providing quality training that takes a bit longer is a sensible and safe approach.”

Completing the training brings substantial benefits.

“If you’ve been unemployed for two years and you've been used to living on a very low income, what you would earn as a truck driver would change your life,” Ms Shewry said.

“We’re passionate about promoting the opportunities that come with having a truck driving licence. It’s much more than just driving.

“Truck drivers acquire a broad range of skills these days: digital skills, excellent customer service skills and an understanding of logistics.

“Adapting to resources is another skill; a truck driver could be expected to drive a truck that is 20 years old and then also be expected to drive a truck that was built last year.

“Combine a truck licence with a forklift licence, for example, and your employability is exponential.”

The ageing workforce of truck drivers is impacting the shortage of truck driviers across Australia.

“The average age of a truck or bus driver in Australia is over 50,” Ms Shewry said.

“Exacerbating the problem is the fact there is no recognised skilled pathway — there's no traineeship or apprenticeship associated with truck driving.

“Yet, it's well paid, sought after and requires real skill.

“Distribution in Australia could come to a standstill if we don't address these issues.”

Joblink Plus credits its compassionate approach for its success in helping long-term unemployed people find jobs.

It takes a trauma-informed approach in working with applicants, 80 per cent of whom have been unemployed for more than two years.

Such a focus recognises that trauma is common and that people accessing services may be affected by traumatic experiences.

When a psychologist working with Joblink Plus identified the extent of applicants affected by trauma, the organisation took bold action.

“The entire organisation is now trauma-informed, which is pretty distinct in our sector,” Ms Shewry said.

Joblink Plus' results speak for themselves.

“More than 3000 people have participated in health and wellbeing programs and within six months, more than 50 per cent of these people progress to sustainable employment,” Ms Shewry said.

“We work with participants to build resilience and provide engaging programs and training so they're work-ready.

“Once they've stayed in a job for six months, they're likely to stay, so that's the aim.

“We tell anybody who is prepared to listen that a trauma-informed, non-punitive and understanding approach to supporting the long-term unemployed works.

“It really does work.”

Joblink Plus has been a Member of Ai Group since 2022.

“Ai Group is an invaluable resource to Joblink Plus. We’re on a first-name basis with the team who are a go-to for all industrial relations and staffing matters, especially when we need to check our thinking on a complex matter. All events we have attended, both online and face to face, provide great networking opportunities and are informative, engaging and reliable for accuracy and relevance.” — Christine Shewry, CEO, Joblink Plus

Wendy Larter

Wendy Larter is Communications Manager at the Australian Industry Group. She has more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, the News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.