This post is based on a speech given at the National Road Transport Association’s 2015 Conference in Brisbane in August 2015. The slide presentation accompanying this blog is downloadable here.
The road freight transport industry in Australia is set to experience ongoing growth with projected revenue of 53.2bn in 2015/16, and every Australian is a beneficiary. Every product bought at a supermarket, a local shop or online, has required tyres on bitumen to arrive ready for consumption.
Despite its promising future and admirable legacy, the road freight industry is not commonly perceived as a desirable field to work in, particularly when it comes to stepping into the cab and taking hold of the wheel. This poses a major problem for resourcing and recruiting heavy haulage vehicle drivers to meet the expanding needs of the industry.
The ‘truckie’ stereotype is very well established. Or is it?
The theme for this year’s National Road Transport Conference is ‘perception vs. reality in the heavy vehicle industry’.
Let’s explore the public perceptions that define the industry and, to some degree, its future. Let’s talk about brand identity and the road freight industry.
“So mate, what do you do for crust?”
What you do is what you are.
One of the first questions you’re asked when you meet someone in a social situation is ‘what do you do for a living?’ Our response is commonly known as the BBQ pitch.
If I say, “I’m a lawyer”.
You think: Six figure salary. Ruthless, hard working, you never see your kids but you have a spectacular home and holiday house somewhere on the sea.
I say, “I’m a nurse”.
You think: Caring, nurturing and selfless. Hard working and long hours on shift work. Someone you can go to when you need support. Paying off a mortgage but money’s never been the focus.
This may be why nurses are ranked Australia’s most trusted profession.
What if I say, “I’m an automotive consultant” (code-word for car salesman).
You think: Shallow, mercenary, not the brightest spark, how long until he tries to sell me an SUV and a duco kit, and I really need to get him away from my BBQ before he takes the eye fillet, chats up Aunt Olsa and gets himself into Grandma’s will.
This may also be why ‘automotive consultants’ were viewed as the least trustworthy profession in Australia.
What if I said, “I’m a truck driver”?
We took this question to the good people along Smith Street in Collingwood, Victoria and recorded the results.
So is the common image of the truck driver a mad drinker? A seriously unhealthy throw back to yesteryear? Or a hillbilly hell bent on getting where he’s going at any cost (cue the Benny Hill theme song)
I mean if any of these guys were at your BBQ you should have bought more beer and put an ambulance on standby.
Of course, what our merry shoppers have told us is that some negative common identity associations are entrenched while others maybe shifting.
“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
– C.S. Lewis
Perceptions are reality.
Our own identities and those of other groups of people are informed by and overlap with the identities of our communities (both physical neighbourhoods and communities of interest), the occupations we choose and the companies we choose or don’t choose to work for.
When the identity perceptions of the majority of people align we experience aggregate public opinion and it can take the form of a stereotype, a clear set of identity associations becoming the norm.
No matter how far perception may be from truth or fact: it is definitely reality.
And, in the road freight industry, the identity of the driver is inextricably linked with the identity of the industry. In this, the industry is not alone.
In image, taxi drivers represent the taxi industry. We all have a preconceived idea of the average taxi driver but, having done research into this industry, I can predict it is probably wrong.
The majority of cabbies are not lazy, confused and reeking from days of untreated BO. The industry has very high satisfaction and regulatory compliance scores.
The ultimate symbol of Australia Post is the local postie. But they are soon to become less visible as the business tries to reign in costs by reigning in the expectations of the Australian public. That’s not going to be easy – we love our posties.
Understanding your brand identity beyond the functional services of your company or industry is critical. You may think you represent the movement of freight, but you actually represent fulfillment of a person’s quality of life, no matter the product being delivered.
Look no further than Kodak for a company that was once indomitable but enjoyed a rapid death because it was not able to see itself as a creator of memories rather than a film producer and processor. “Take a Kodak” was once a phrase of common vernacular – how could it fade so quickly from use?
We need to understand the outcomes we represent not just what we do.
The truck drivers of today.
So, who is the average Australian trucker?
He is almost always male, 46.7 years old and has been driving trucks for 19.4 years (women represent only 1% of the road freight workforce).
That profile is alive in 45 year old family man Mat Dockerty.
Mat’s an avid blogger, lives on 25 acres in Tamworth with his family and has two daughters aged 10 and 12.
He’s been driving trucks for over 10 years and hasn’t been in any accidents but once witnessed a crash and waited with an injured trucker until the ambulance cut the man free from the cab.
Mat goes by the motto:
“No freight or job is more important than getting home safely at the end of the week.”
An emerging new profile is embodied in Norma Casburn.
She is a 36 year old mum (currently taking maternity leave with her 10 month old) and has been driving trucks for over a decade.
For the past eight years she has been driving heavy haulage trucks with BP and hasn’t been in an accident.
We need more Normas because we can’t find enough Mats.
“The road freight transport industry dominates the Australian non-bulk freight market, leveraging advantages in price, speed, convenience and reliability.” – IBIS World
The road freight industry in Australia.
The facts on Australian road freight in 2015/16:
- Expected to draw in 52.3bn in revenue.
- Estimated to bring home $13.6bn in wages.
- Estimated annual growth of 2.4%.
- Consists of 41, 097 businesses.
In the years to come:
- Truck traffic to increase by 50% from 2010 – 2030.
- Freight services are set to double by 2020.
- 5% increase in road transport workers from 2013-2017.
- 42,200 new truck drivers are expected by 2017.
- Increase in woman truckers.
- 78,000 new qualifications in road transport sector minimum training from 2013-17 with 2/3 of that training being for truck drivers.
A common misconception is that the level of heavy vehicle accidents is increasing; in fact, accidents are the lowest in history and continue to trend downwards:
- Fatalities involving articulated trucks decreased by 36.2% from 2008 – 2013.
- Over the same period, fatalities involving rigid trucks decreased by 10.7%.
Despite all of this, the truck driver occupation has a negative image problem:
- Unhealthy – as a result of conditions that encourage weight gain and a poor diet.
- Substance abuse – a culture that abuses alcohol and other substances.
- Dangerous – drivers are under pressure to drive for long hours, suffering from fatigue and risking the potential for road accidents.
- Deprived lifestyle – drivers spend long hours away from home and work overtime.
The industry is expanding and it needs hands on wheels to keep it moving. Its negative image problem is a barrier to achieving a key industry goal – to recruit truck drivers in order to sustain industry growth.
Perhaps it was best said by CEO of Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls to the ABC:
“We’re here to help the boys, we’re not here to compete, because we actually are running out of men to drive trucks.”
Setting the record straight.
There are more than 13 million passenger vehicles on the road in Australia and an additional 3 million light commercial vehicles (tradie trucks). So, in addition to the truck driver, its not surprising we associate the road freight industry with the roar of a B-Double next to us on the motorway.
But the industry represents much more.
We want people to think of road freight when filling up at the pump, picking up a parcel, buying something online, or purchasing a box of avocados from our local grocer.
We looked up the journey of the fresh juicy avocado and were astounded by the speed with which it moves through the supply chain in order to arrive fresh – days after picking – on the dinner plate.
I mean ASTOUNDED. And suddenly aware of how much we take for granted as blind consumers.
A better question to answer and envisage might be, “if you stopped the trucks what would happen”?
Essential to public health, industry, wholesale, retail, food and sustenance – the entire economy. Truck or die!
So, back to brand identity and the road freight industry – do you have an identity crisis?
Like many other industries that have re-positioned themselves to be modern and efficient, the legacy image can remain even though it is not representative and anachronistic. In fact it seems to be human nature to like holding onto nostalgic characterisations. Vintage cool.
The current truckie stereotype is a B-Double handbrake on our ability to strengthen the industry and set the agenda, not react to it.
What is the road freight value proposition?
Functional benefits + emotional benefits = value proposition
“We move stuff from A to B” + “lives are enabled and enriched” = the road freight value proposition
We need to use this simple equation and tell the full story.
The kinds of identity elements we want people to associate with ‘truckers’ are listed below.
In order to move forward, the industry needs to be seen less for movin’ stuff and more for enabling the future.
“It’s all in the mind.”
– George Harrison
Without even realising it, the identity of the industry sits at the perceptions of industry, everyday Aussies and the policy maker: the people who decide on the incentives, taxation, subsidies, infrastructure investments, and promotional campaigns that assist or undermine the industry.
It’s clear the road freight industry wants to define and establish identity, not have it shaped by others. To be successful, there needs to be some control over perception and reality.
The road freight industry requires workers, roads, customers and a seat at the table.
To achieve these critical outcomes you need to keep addressing the question of brand identity and the road freight industry.
Because it is clear, every Australian needs you guys to keep on truckin’.