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A CRITICAL shortage of truck drivers has led to a $6.1 million skill set program by the WA government to increase heavy-vehicle driver training through city and regional TAFE colleges.

The training, which aims to take on 1000 drivers, is an Australian-first and has been developed in consultation with the transport industry. It has been welcomed by the Transport Workers Union which said it would combat “second-rate” driver trainers.

The Heavy Vehicle Driving Operations Skill Set has been established to address driver shortages, by training 500 new workers in Heavy Rigid (HR) licences and upskilling an additional 500 existing drivers from HR licences to Heavy Combination (HC) and/or Multi-Combination (MC) licences.

On successful completion, participants obtain a HR, HC or MC licence and can extend the training by applying for a forklift (LF) licence.

The Heavy Vehicle Driving Operations Skill Set announced by the state government was first outlined in February and started with a six-week theoretical and practical course at the specialist Driver Risk Management centre at the Perth Airport.

After 12 students enrolled, the government reports that Central Regional TAFE is taking expressions of interest for future enrolments planned for the Mid-West, Goldfields and Great Southern regions.

Central Regional TAFE has partnered with Driver Risk Management to deliver the course which is free for eligible students. The Practical Driving Instruction Training and Assessment and licencing costs $500 for concession students and $1250 for non-concession students.

Peak industry body Western Roads Federation has been advising the WA government on issues affecting the industry and has been instrumental in developing the expanded skill set to address unprecedented workforce demands due to COVID-19.

Western Roads Federation will mentor and support students on the path to employment, working to connect students to industry employers.

The WA branch of the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) welcomed the announcement. It said the transport industry had, in the past, been a target of “shonky” training operators that led to unskilled and unsafe drivers being put onto WA roads.

The union said the industry was also subject to an aging workforce and shortages of skilled drivers could damage the future of the sector.

The WA government is pushing its training sector as a key driver behind the state’s COVID-19 recovery.

WA transport minister Rita Saffioti said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how vital the freight industry and truck drivers are to our state and our economy.

“We have worked collaboratively with industry to create this program to make sure it gives truck drivers the skills they need while also helping jobseekers increase their employability,” she said in a statement.

“Western Roads Federation and the Transport Workers’ Union approached the premier, minister for education and training and myself, asking to create a dedicated training course for truck drivers.

“I’m so pleased we have been able to roll out a training program that delivers what industry needs.”

By Neil Dowling