National Road Safety Partnership Case Study: Driving Diversity at Alex Fraser
March 8, 2023
Alex Fraser are delighted to feature in the recent National Road Safety Partnership Program case study; Build It, and She Will Come: How creating a welcoming and safe culture is addressing industry challenges.
Build It, and She Will Come
Alex Fraser Group and Hanson Group Australia
DRIVEN WOMEN, WOMEN DRIVERS: Creating a safe environment to access an untapped resource.
Fleet size: 1500+
CASE STUDY: Build It, and She Will Come: How creating a welcoming and safe culture is addressing industry challenges.
- Proactively recruiting and training women to be truck drivers is helping transport and other industries fill longstanding vacancies
- There is a capable and motivated workforce willing to take up truck driver and other roles in traditionally male-dominated industries if we broaden our potential recruitment pool
- Providing the opportunity and proper training to women will attract high numbers of skilled women to fill truck driver and other roles
- To be successful, companies need to ‘walk the talk’, from updating the language used in recruitment ads to providing real employment opportunities after training
- Upgrading amenities and implementing other simple measures to create a welcoming and safe environment for women drivers will increase retention (as it does for all drivers)
- Any external or internal resistance is quickly overcome when women ‘prove’ they are capable of doing the job they are employed for
- Increasing diversity in your workforce drives internal culture benefits and is positively received by clients, customers and the wider industry.
Finding truck drivers to fill vacancies is a longstanding issue impacting transport and other industries across Australia and the world. When two well-known transport names joined forces to actively recruit women to fill those vacancies – working to change perceptions of male-dominated industries at the same time– they found a motivated, capable and safe workforce that has driven internal and external benefits for the businesses while helping to address truck driver shortages.
The transport industry has a perennial problem in recruiting enough drivers to fill available roles. In fact, at the start of 2023, there were more than 35,000 driver jobs advertised on Seek, half for truck drivers. And as a male-dominated industry, it is not perceived as a realistic or welcoming career opportunity for women, essentially meaning we limit ourselves to accessing only half of the potential recruitment pool to fill those vacancies.
In 2018, Alex Fraser Group, and its parent company Hanson Group Australia, set out to tackle both challenges. It has now successfully recruited more than 60 women drivers – retaining at last count, two thirds of them – to work as specialised tipper truck or concrete agitator drivers. And they’ve come from all walks of life, ranging from retail, defence and hairdressing to administration, customer service, chefs, and health and beauty.
The initiative has been so successful the women-specific truck driver training is now run multiple times a year and in five states, with plans to expand further. While recruiting drivers has been the main focus, Alex Fraser’s efforts in increasing diversity extends to all areas of the business, with women also included in other traditionally male roles, such as loader operators and key account managers. And beyond the benefits in recruitment and retention, the bold initiative has met a favourable response externally from clients and had a positive impact on the company’s internal culture.
This case study briefly outlines how the two well-known transport names went about successfully recruiting and retaining women drivers, training them to ensure their skills were up to scratch, and the reaction internally from other workers and externally from customers.
Alex Fraser is Australia’s leading provider of sustainable construction materials, recycling millions of tonnes of construction materials every year to produce high quality sustainable products including aggregates, asphalt, roadbase and sand and has seven sites across Brisbane and Melbourne, employing 360 people.
Alex Fraser’s parent company Hanson Australia is one of Australia’s leading suppliers of heavy building materials to the construction industry. With world-class quarries and concrete plants all over Australia, Hanson supplies quality premixed concrete and aggregates, including crushed rock, sand, gravel, crusher dust, and roadbase to the building and construction industries. Hanson is one of the world’s largest producers of quality aggregates and concrete with more than 60 quarries, 255 concrete plants and a 1,500 strong logistics fleet in Australia. Hanson Australia and Alex Fraser are part of the global HeidlebergCement Group.
Finding enough truck drivers has long been a challenge for the transport industry. In 2018, Alex Fraser Group and its parent company Hanson Group Australia decided to try a new approach: increasing female participation in their own operations. The organisations were looking to specifically recruit women to begin careers as truck drivers in traditionally male-dominated roles and traditionally male-dominated industries. Ongoing growth and the need for more recruits meant the companies also wanted to increase the number and quality of applications for driver roles. Since then, both companies have taken a series of proactive steps to improve diversity and inclusion across their workforces, working together to help more women upskill and enter a range of long-term, rewarding and traditionally male-dominated careers in the construction and transport industries.
The companies introduced a trainee driver program in 2018, inviting six women with a car licence to undertake a five-week intensive training program to attain their Heavy Rigid licence and take on a permanent full time role driving Hanson agitators or Alex Fraser tippers. The program not only attracts and recruits women who were not necessarily considering a role in the industry but also offers them a free training program of theory and practical driver training, with payment from day one and permanent full-time employment.
Trainee driver program
The first trainee driver program was conducted in 2018, with Transport Women Australia Limited, VOLVO Group Australia and Wodonga TAFE’s Division DECA, aiming to create new pathways for women to join the industry and upskilling women to become full-time truck drivers.
The training is based on the Certificate III Wodonga TAFE/DECA Superior Heavy Vehicle Licencing course that combines seven days of theoretical classroom education with practical driver training. The initial trainee driver program was offered to women with a motor car licence. It is specifically designed to increase women’s participation and provides candidates with an intense five-week training course and concludes with licence testing for heavy rigid (HR) vehicles, followed by full-time employment as concrete agitator and tandem tipper drives with either Alex Fraser or Hanson Australia.
The training continues at their new work site, where trainee drivers receive intensive on the job coaching and support from a highly experienced driver or trainer throughout a 10-day induction. Participants apply online to be part of the trainee driver program. Shortlisted applicants attend a group interview, where successful candidates are offered a position in the intensive training course. There was enormous interest in the initial program, with more than 250 applicants for seven positions within 48 hours of the first recruitment advertisement.
Taking the next step
After the success of the initial course, Hanson and Alex Fraser then designed their own Women Driving Transport Careers program to allow for greater flexibility and more courses to take place. In April 2021, Hanson conducted another training program at Warrnambool in regional Victoria where three women were trained as agitator drivers for a local wind farm project. A larger course later that year in Melbourne upskilled and employed another 12 trainees for concrete agitator and tipper driver women. The program has continued to grow and in 2022 expanded beyond offering only Heavy Rigid (HR) vehicle training to also upgrade HR licensed drivers to Heavy Combination (HC) vehicle training.
To be eligible to obtain their HR licence as part of the program, participants must have held a car licence for at least two years. Some of the more experienced program participants have held a HR or MR licence for at least 12 months and have enrolled in the program to upskill to a HC licence, enabling them to drive larger truck and trailers for Hanson and Alex Fraser. This driver training program has been so successful for the companies that it is now running in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, with plans to run them two or three times each year in each state and take the program nationally.
Beyond truck driver roles, Hanson and Alex Fraser are also active in recruiting women to join the organisation for all roles, offering career and leadership development opportunities including the Chief Executive Women Leaders Program. Women are welcome in any role in the business and are currently employed in a range of roles, including loader operators, load inspectors, key account managers, pickers and project managers.
Walking the talk
When Alex Fraser and Hanson decided to actively recruit women into the industry, they overhauled traditional advertising methods to increase the chances of women applying. The online application webpage and advertising message was completely redeveloped to concentrate on the ‘benefits’ of long-term career opportunities and growth prospects targeted at women, with an interest in construction and sustainability, living in proximity to the employers’ sites. They gave a detailed overview of the career opportunities, using female-coded language and copywriting tactics backed by industry research to appeal specifically to women. A range of materials including video introductions to past candidates and an overview of the training program and career opportunity, introductory presentations and takeaway booklets for potential candidates were produced.
To date Alex Fraser and Hanson’s recruitment campaign for female drivers has reached many thousands of women nationally, and it has attracted hundreds of applications from women keen to commence a driving career in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. Further to the trainee driver program, Alex Fraser and Hanson Australia celebrate women employed in the business, especially around International Women’s Day in March, by highlighting the women within the business on social media and internal company collateral. The companies’ internal networks include a Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, and a Women at Hanson only group where they celebrate achievements of women in the business and share learnings and challenges.
Planning for success
As difficult as it is to find drivers, new employees also have a higher risk of departure, so Hanson and Alex Fraser went beyond simply recruiting and introduced measures to ensure the new trainees were successful and stayed. That included appointing an organisational psychologist as a mentor to the driver training program to actively keep in touch with trainees during the course to ensure they were feeling supported and to act as an early warning for any issues. Post course, a volunteer employee from Hanson took over mentor responsibilities.
On-the-ground practical improvements included incorporating bathroom facilities for men and women at all sites and expanding the PPE range after seeking feedback from women within the business, who wanted to wear clothes more suited to their body shape to be more comfortable while they worked for eight hours a day. The new range includes pant styles which have greater flex and a curved waistband to ensure greater comfort while working, as well as the addition of tops, jackets, maternity wear and boots suited for women’s feet.
Such changes also reflect the companies’ consultation based approach to much of their operations, which is also evident in how Alex Fraser manages safety across the business, adopting a co-operative approach between managers, employees and contractors in addressing health and safety matters, consulting drivers and other employees on issues and encouraging them to highlight workplace risks [see ‘Safety for all’ breakout box].
Safety for all
Much like its approach to recruiting women drivers, Alex Fraser Group takes a proactive approach to managing safety. Its employees and contractors know that no business objective or activity is more important than their health and safety – it’s written in the Alex Fraser Health and Safety Policy – and they have the power to stop any job if it can’t be completed safely. Two key features of the company’s approach to health and safety are consultation with its workforce and utilising technology to keep its drivers and fleet safe. The basis of this consultation is an annual staff safety survey, where all employees anonymously evaluate their department’s health and safety performance.
The results provide management with a detailed picture of the workforce’s safety concerns and opportunities for improvement, informing its safety planning for the following year. They also feed into the company’s three year safety plan, the outcomes of an annual Safety Summit where leaders develop a company-wide safety strategy and identify priorities for improvement. The plan is the foundation of a range of function and site-specific plans, with each business unit tailoring its own annual plans in direct consultation with their teams.
More specifically, Alex Fraser’s Transport and Logistics’ team has leveraged technology to maximise workplace road safety, including lane departure warning systems, sensors that detect if the ground is at a safe level for tipping, and a collision avoidance system, which allows the truck to automatically apply the brakes if it detects a potential collision. Alex Fraser and Hanson Australia are also trialling a driver distraction and fatigue detection system, which alerts drivers and their managers if the driver experiences a microsleep, drowsiness or a distraction while driving.
So has the women driver program worked?
Seek has more than 30,000 job advertisements for drivers. The rise in internet shopping has seen parcel delivery driving jobs absorb much professional driving talent. And drivers tend to be an ageing work group and regulations like Chain of Responsibility have increased demands on driver behaviour and record keeping in recent years. Plus high risk driving roles such as agitator and tipper driving require high caliber driving talent.
Previously, when Alex Fraser and Hanson advertised driver vacancies, they would get no female applicants. The Women Driving Transport Careers program has changed that, removing the barriers to entry for female talent and allowing the companies to increase the talent pool for recruitment. It also allows the company to hire for personal qualities that bring the desired behaviours into the business, and customers have responded to the trainees with positivity and inclusiveness. So in addition to providing high-calibre talent to support a growing transport task, another pleasing benefit of the program is the positive impact the new recruits have had on the work environment and customer interactions.
“We delivered to a job site in Geelong the other day and the customer thanked us and said we’re doing a great job,” one women driver says. The companies’ program mentor added: “Every time I’ve seen the women out on the job they’ve been super happy. Shaylene’s got concreters and pumpies apologising to her when they stuff up. That’s never happened before. Pumpies apologising, that’s unbelievable!”
External recognition has also included the companies winning the Australian Freight Industry 2022 Female Leadership Award, which recognises organisations taking proactive steps to improve diversity and the participation of women in the workforce. Of the more than 1500 truck drivers Hanson and Alex Fraser employ, about 6 per cent are women, which is double the national average for female participation. At the start of 2023, Hanson and Alex Fraser have graduated 60 women from the Trainee Driver Program. Two thirds are still working for the company, and several drivers are still in the industry, with program graduates progressing to roles driving larger trucks.
Keys to success
Walk the talk
Beyond expressing a desire to recruit more women to help address the driver shortage, Alex Fraser and Hanson put proactive and practical measures in place to ensure it happened. That began with the initial job advertisements, which were tailored including from language used to highlighting factors of importance for a female audience, such as flexibility. After the initial training course was externally funded, the companies have ensured the program’s longevity by funding it themselves.
Maintain high training standards
The program would fall at the first hurdle if the companies’ driver trainees were not up to the task. While aspects of the driver training program were tailored to cater for an inexperienced female audience, the standard trainee drivers were expected to reach before being graduated remained consistent, as did the ongoing and initial ‘buddy’ training drivers received once employed.
Follow through and retain
Hanson and Alex Fraser went beyond the usual recruiting and training process to ensure firstly that women who signed up to the driver training course were supported to complete it, through to employing a program-specific mentor, for example, and then making changes on the ground to maximise the chances that new drivers were retained, including upgrading amenities and equipment provided.
Champions for the cause
As for any initiative that requires or drives a cultural change in an organisation, executive and management support is essential to its success. In this case, the women driving training program has been supported by external organisations like Transport Women Australia Limited and, importantly, internally from company leadership to a dedicated program mentor.