Women in Transport – Event Recap

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Panelist Katherine Ashton (Toll Group) in discussions. Left to right Hon, Jenny Aitchison, MP, Katherine Ashton, Tony McGrath (McGrath Newcastle) & Ashanti Kruger (Hunter Cargo and Customs)

In partnership with the Chartered Institute for Logistics and Trans port (CILT) the Women’s Network Hunter co-costed a luncheon encouraging the discussion around Increasing the Talent Pool within the Industry particularly as it relates to the topic of degenderising and the retention of women in the workforce.

Held in a panelist format with panelists Ms Ashanti Kruger (Managing Director, Hunter Cargo and Customs), Ms Katherine Ashton (Newcastle Branch Manager Toll Group), Mr Tony McGrath (Owner, McGrath Transport) and the Hon. Jenny Aitchison, MP, this is a short recap of the event:

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CILT representative and Host Mark Apthorpe introducing the proceedings and panelist

The irony of choosing a former men’s only venue was not lost on those who took part in recent Women in Transport seminar, co-hosted by Women’s Network Hunter & the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport at Newcastle Business Club last Thursday.

Attendees, who were greeted by a manservant on arrival, met to discuss the degenderisation of a primarily male industry in a location more aptly known for its rich history as a Gentlemen’s Club.

Women’s Network Hunter spokesperson Race Barstow said the contrasting experiences were a graphic example of how society had progressed.

“[This]  indicates exactly how far we have come in a society which often lags in its ability to fully recognise the issues of parity and the inadvertent exclusion of Women cross industry,” Ms Barstow said.

The event attracted a relatively low attendance which raised a question about the willingness of the local Transport and Logistics Industry as a whole to acknowledge, or even be interested in, leading a discussion on engaging women.

This was particularly interesting as there is a focus on boosting the local talent pool in anticipation of a 26 per cent increase in workforce requirements in the next five years.

Unlike notable advances in non-traditional trades, such as the Mining and Technical Trades industries, the Transport and Logistics has seen a lack of uptake of women entering into the industry and a decrease in retention.

How then will the Hunter address the looming shortage of workers?

Panelist and recruitment specialist Katherine Ashton, of Toll Group, quoted the average age of workers within road transport to be 55. This in itself indicated a need to engage a younger, tech-savvy and flexible demographic if the industry was to sustain its current abilities and regional and global competitiveness.

In addition, the average 55-year-old is not traditionally tech-savvy, and this has required an enormous amount of investment into training and mentoring to keep valuable mature-age workers and allow them to continue to perform even the most basic functions associated with working life, like entering a timesheet or checking their roster.

The widening gap of technology in the workplace is inadvertently decreasing the ability to take in unskilled labour and fully transition mature-age workers into new systems. In an age of increased ability to meet client demands and successful tendering for new and expanding ventures, the industry is fast coming to crisis point with the lack of personnel to deliver the goods.

Add to this an increasingly litigious culture, biased and out-of-date media exposure and increasing regulatory requirements without a sufficient governing system and competency level, businesses are fighting an uphill battle before the discussion begins.

“The construction industry has a state-wide standard induction which allows personnel to obtain a white card and enter sites safely,” said Ashanti Kruger, Managing Director of Hunter Cargo and Customs.

“There is no such option within the Transport Industry for their personnel.”

Despite advances in technology to service clientele better, personnel are forced into site-specific induction after induction.

This makes for a logistical nightmare.

“We need to look a streamlined options to make logistics more efficient and accessible,” said Tony McGrath, Road Transport Owner and Manager.

“I have seen women complete amazing tasks in road transport but we need career-minded people.”

The days of heavy labour duties are gone with the introduction of safety equipment, lifting mechanisms and streamlined operations.

With recent statistical data being released by the Department of Employment of increased numbers of the population identifying as a person of disability, this should come as a welcome relief; not so, however, if the flexibility of working conditions can’t be addressed.

Add to this a lack of interest in developing a career in Logistics and Transport due to a fear of technology use and the inaccurate media representation of the industry with television series such as Ice Road Truckers.

“What do people think of when they think of the industry?” asked one participant.

“Women in these shows are often seen as tough women surviving in a rough man’s world and rarely shows the professionalism or diversity in roles available. The industry isn’t driving a truck and driving a truck isn’t a brainless and death-defying task.”

Ms Ashton is a prime example of exactly how successful and proactive the industry can be for a woman in today’s world. Toll Group has embraced flexibility in the workplace and thinking outside the square when it comes to attracting and retaining personnel ensuring that even top-level management roles can be worked part-time and job-shared around family commitments.

Ashton shared her personal experience in negotiating her role as a Branch Manager for the National Company’s Newcastle branch through the impending birth of her first child and now successfully operating in the role as a mother of two.

The incorporation of flexible work hours and access to streamlined technology has not only made for a commercially successful arrangement between employer and employee, it has broken ground to allow for the introduction of increased investment by employers in retaining personnel through mentoring and training on the use of smart phones, computer systems and cloud based programs.

“What we are seeing in the recruitment within the industry is a gap between highly skilled personnel who haven’t got the ability to complete tedious online inductions and basic reporting requirements simply because of their lack of exposure and understanding of the use of technology and devices,” she said.

McGrath would concur admitting that as a mature age business owner, without the background knowledge in these areas, it is difficult to take on personnel and train them. The industry wants a ready-made workforce, already inducted and equipped, and it simply doesn’t exist.

So, how then do we recruit and retain personnel, and how does and can degenderising the industry tap into the now untapped portion of women seeking to re-enter and/or contribute to the workforce in an industry that will give the opportunity and advancement?

“I think what we are facing is the need to re-evaluate and re-define what a degenderised workforce really looks like,” said the Hon. Jenny Aitchison Member of Maitland and former business owner in People Transport and Touring.

Mrs Aitchison is well-known for her involvement in the “loo coup” which saw a complete refurbishment and investment in State Parliament for practical and adequate facilities for female parliamentarians.

“I had a builder once refuse to build a facility for us because we asked for an increase in female facilities for one of our bus depots, which would suit our personnel and clientele requirements but went outside the industry expectation.”

Aitchison argues that degenderisation and attraction of females into the workforce goes beyond the concept of unisex mentality and involves the need to address and cater for the unique needs of those personnel.

Industries have done so and with some success. Corporations within many major cities now include child care facilities near to or adjacent to their head offices as an attractor to mothers looking to maintain their career.

In others, flexible working hours, job sharing and shorter shifts ensure an adapted family-friendly roster. Local employer Kloster Group is fast becoming known for their non-aggressive workplace policies and commitment to a level of professionalism and decorum across their departments. A particular win-win given the increase of mental health, stress and workplace bullying claims in recent times across Australia.

“As an industry and as a Company we must look to ensure we are investing in long term growth and development of our people,” Kruger said.

“Logistics and transport are critical to every industry and we cannot afford to ignore the need to continue to develop and grow in order to maintain our success.”

However the real question is, what now? It is easy to sit over a relaxing and candid lunch discussing the ins and outs and recognising the brick walls that need to be brought down.

It is quite another to actively engage in developing avenues for action.

Will the industry move forth toward innovation and long-term success, or fall upon its own sword through a lack of commitment to change?

Hon. Jenny Aitchison, moderator Glenda Briggs & WNH Race Barstow in discussions over lunch

Hon. Jenny Aitchison MP, moderator Glenda Briggs & WNH Race Barstow in discussions over lunch

Since the initial writing of this article, recent media has brought to light some of the difficulties Industry Leaders are facing in trying to reset the bar with this interesting piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald   regarding backlash from Aurizon’s recent campaign to attract women into their workforce. Click for the full story –  Aurizon cops heat on women only job ad

All Images Courtesy of the office of Hon. Jenny Aitchison MP, Member for Maitland

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