Ken is the general manager and director of Russell Transport, a family-owned business that has been operating in South-East Queensland for over 80 years. He has worked for the company for almost 11 years and his goal is to see the company reach its 100-year anniversary.
Russell Transport began in 1925 when Ken’s grandfather started transporting spirits for the Commonwealth Oil Refinery. Ken’s father took over the business in the 1970s and it has stayed in the same family to this day. Members of the third generation have now taken over as directors.
What does Russell Transport do?
Our major business components incorporate contract distribution for manufacturers in South-East Queensland. We also own a number of other businesses that complement these core activities. We do heavy haulage, over-dimensional and specialised transport, line-haul components, and warehousing.
We also operate two associated businesses – Metro-Lift Cranes and Caloundra General Transport.
The main positions we have for people just out of school are apprenticeships. We also look for young people for truck driver positions, but you need certain licences and this of course takes a few years to complete. By the time you get a heavy combination licence you’re 21 or 22 years old. So there’s a time period that can be seen as a barrier to entry into the transport industry.
We have approximately 20 guys in our workshop facility where we do all our in-house maintenance. We offer skills-based apprenticeships as heavy commercial vehicle mechanics.
We also have a school-based apprenticeship and three or four guys take part in that each year. They need basic school qualifications to begin this study.
Depending on the position, we basically look for people who have a vehicle licence and then we provide the training. In our contract distribution we have procedures in place where we look for raw recruits who have basic skills to complete the job, and then we train them in-house.
In some of our specialised areas we look for applicants who have work experience and who can demonstrate that they learn quickly.
The first step is very similar to getting a car licence. You start off with a medium-rigid or heavy-rigid licence and you have to hold that for a minimum of 12 months before you can move onto the next licence.
Once you get this first step you can get employment in the transport industry. That’s how we get a lot of guys at the moment – they come in with a medium-rigid or heavy-rigid licence and start off on our smaller vehicles.
After a period of time they can progress to their next licence and do some hours driving with another guy in the next vehicle up. When they’re confident and ready, we supply them with a vehicle to undertake the next qualification test with Queensland Transport.
This varies across the many different parts of the transport industry. We have some guys who drive up to 200 000 kilometres a year while others don’t even do 30 000 kilometres. If you are doing local distribution around capital cities you expect to do 80 000 kilometres at most. As soon as you start to travel interstate this increases up to 150 000 kilometres.
In our business we offer good flexibility so that people aren’t just hopping in a truck and going from point A to point B and back again continuously. There is a variety in the sites and locations that they go to. In our local ad-hoc business the guys might be around town for a project for a few weeks, and then the next lot of work will be in Central Queensland, so they’ll be back and forwards between Brisbane and a mining centre.
There is a whole spectrum of hours for our operators, but most work four days on, three days off.
Truck drivers in our local distribution networks start between 5 am and 8 am, and do an 8- or 14-hour day. Someone just entering the transport industry would be on this early morning start and they would then progress to different operating hours as their skills increase.
It’s been a challenge getting young people into the industry. Demand for workers in freight, especially in South-East Queensland, is going to double over the next 10 to 15 years. We need people to fill these gaps in freight and it is a problem occurring all across Australia.
The average age of our drivers is gradually getting older. We have a lot of people over the age of 35. The number of guys operating vehicles under the age of 25 is only about 10.
The transport industry offers a flexible working environment and, due to the number of positions in different occupations, we have a large degree of career advancement and flexibility in career opportunities. For example, our workshop manager has been with the company since he started as an apprentice spray painter 17 years ago. We also have staff who move from truck driver positions to administration, and occasionally there are office staff who decide that they want to change careers and become crane operators.