NEXT- GEN­ER­A­TION RU­RAL TRUCKIES

The 2016 Live­stock and Ru­ral Trans­porters As­so­ci­a­tion of Vic­to­ria’s Young Driver award win­ner doesn’t shy away from hir­ing driv­ers aged un­der 25. Ta­mara Whitsed talks to Rob Hodge

Owner Driver - - Owner/Driver -

TRUCK­ING IS an age­ing in­dus­try, but Rob Hodge is buck­ing the trend at Hodge Live­stock Trans­port.

The 34-year-old man­ages the fam­ily busi­ness based in Blakeville, near Bal­larat, Vic­to­ria.

The com­pany op­er­ates 10 trucks, in­clud­ing nine West­ern Stars, which spe­cialise in ru­ral freight. Most of its freight is live­stock.

It also carts farm ma­chin­ery, grain and hay.

Rob won the Live­stock and Ru­ral Trans­porters As­so­ci­a­tion of Vic­to­ria (LRTAV) Young Driver Award in 2016 and con­sid­ers it im­por­tant to hire driv­ers from the chal­leng­ing 20-to-25 age group.

“You talk about the av­er­age age of the live­stock trans­port driv­ers – I imag­ine that our av­er­age would be mid-30s in our com­pany,” says Rob, whose youngest driver is 21.

He un­der­stands why young peo­ple want to drive live­stock trucks.

“It can be a very re­ward­ing ca­reer fi­nan­cially, and you get to travel around and meet some peo­ple on farms in the real part of Aus­tralia – the ru­ral part.”

This life­style ap­peals to peo­ple in their early 20s, es­pe­cially if they like train­ing dogs and work­ing with live­stock.

“I think we need a more re­al­is­tic ap­proach to younger driv­ers, es­pe­cially with in­surance,” Rob says.

“It’s not so much the boss that doesn’t want to give them a go. It’s the in­surance at the end of the day

that says no. There are plenty of in­surance com­pa­nies out there that say, ‘We don’t in­sure un­der-25s.’”

But if as­pir­ing truckies can’t find work with trans­port com­pa­nies in their early 20s, they are likely to be set­tled in other ca­reers by the time they are 25.

“A lot of the trou­ble is that by the time you do get to 25, most young blokes are ei­ther in a re­la­tion­ship or have got chil­dren around or on the way, and they need to be home ev­ery night.

“They need to have a set sched­ule when they can be home. In the live­stock in­dus­try, we can’t pro­vide set start times or set fin­ish times.”

TRAIN­ING RE­DUCES RISK

Rob is pre­pared to put in the ex­tra work re­quired to em­ploy and train young driv­ers. He tells his bro­ker he only wants quotes from com­pa­nies who will in­sure driv­ers who are un­der 25. And he works with his in­surer to re­duce the risk of hav­ing in­ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers.

Rob doesn’t put young driv­ers in his more valu­able trucks.

He in­vests time trav­el­ling twoup with the driv­ers to help them im­prove their skills. And he keeps them off the more chal­leng­ing, moun­tain­ous ter­rain.

“Try and keep it as sim­ple as pos­si­ble un­til they get some ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says. “They start with a smaller truck – just a tray truck with a sin­gle deck. And they just con­tinue to grow as their ex­pe­ri­ence al­lows.”

This cau­tious in­tro­duc­tion to truck­ing can frus­trate young driv­ers if they grew up dream­ing about driv­ing road trains across Aus­tralia. But Rob be­lieves it is im­por­tant for them to gain grad­ual ex­pe­ri­ence.

He al­ways hopes the time he spends train­ing young driv­ers will ben­e­fit his busi­ness for years to come, but sev­eral of his young driv­ers have taken their new skills to other com­pa­nies.

“It’s pretty dis­heart­en­ing that they can turn up in the qui­eter months and you find a job for them and when it gets to the hard­est time, the busiest time, they say, ‘I’ve been of­fered another job.’ ”

Some­times his driv­ers move to big­ger com­pa­nies which are po­ten­tially in a bet­ter po­si­tion to train young driv­ers.

“But [th­ese com­pa­nies] don’t want to pay the ex­tra in­surance and ac­tu­ally put in the driver train­ing. I’ve spent many hours sit­ting in the pas­sen­ger seat of a truck, train­ing driv­ers.”

“It’s the in­surance at the end of the day that says no”

“We’ve had plenty of truck driv­ers’ sons come through”

De­spite this, Rob says he will con­tinue to give op­por­tu­ni­ties to young driv­ers.

“We’ve had plenty of truck driv­ers’ sons come through our busi­ness. Plenty of farm­ers’ sons. Plenty of shear­ers. Peo­ple that can han­dle stock and just need the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It’s eas­ier to train some­one with live­stock ex­pe­ri­ence to drive a truck than it is to train some­one with truck driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to work live­stock.”

THIRD GEN­ER­A­TION

A third-gen­er­a­tion truck driver, Rob be­gan driv­ing trucks for the fam­ily busi­ness when he was 20.

In 2006, his father Wayne shifted his at­ten­tion to the fam­ily farm and handed man­age­ment of the truck busi­ness over to Rob.

As well as man­ag­ing the busi­ness, Rob still trav­els be­tween 2000km and 5000km in the truck each week. He en­joys be­ing on the road with his Hunt­away and Kelpie dogs.

His mother He­len and brother Kai­ley are also in­volved in the live­stock cartage busi­ness. Rob’s part­ner Fluff Tonkin has a heavy com­bi­na­tion li­cence and en­joys driv­ing the West­ern Stars.

As Owner//Driver goes to print, Rob and Fluff are an­tic­i­pat­ing the ar­rival of their first child.

Hodge Live­stock Trans­port’s nine West­ern Stars travel through­out Vic­to­ria, South Aus­tralia and New South Wales. There are also two trucks and driv­ers in Tas­ma­nia.

Rob says live­stock cartage be­tween Tas­ma­nia and the main­land has been a ma­jor rea­son for the com­pany’s grad­ual growth. The Hodge fam­ily’s stock crates, loaded with live­stock, cross Bass Strait with Toll Ship­ping on their way to farms and pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

“There are thou­sands of sheep and cat­tle ev­ery year,” Rob says.

In ad­di­tion to their nine West­ern Stars, Hodge Live­stock Trans­port has a 1993 S-Line In­ter­na­tional.

Rob is sen­ti­men­tal about the old S-Line be­cause it is the first new truck the com­pany ever bought.

Fluff nom­i­nated Rob for the 2016 LRTAV Young Driver Award and Rob was pre­sented with the tro­phy at the an­nual con­fer­ence last Au­gust.

LRTAV pres­i­dent Graham How­ell says Rob is a wor­thy re­cip­i­ent of the Young Driver Award be­cause of the lead­er­ship qual­i­ties he dis­plays.

“He just showed ma­tu­rity be­yond his years,” Graham says.

NOM­I­NATE A YOUNG DRIVER

Do you know a young Vic­to­rian ru­ral truck driver who demon­strates a best-prac­tice ap­proach to driv­ing and safety? Nom­i­na­tions are now open for the 2017 LRTAV Young Driver Award which is spon­sored by Grif­fiths Goodall In­surance Bro­kers. It is open to truck driv­ers aged 20 to 35 (as of De­cem­ber 31, 2017) who work in the ru­ral trans­port sec­tor.

En­trants must be nom­i­nated by a mem­ber of the LRTAV by July 21. Nom­i­na­tion forms have been emailed to LRTAV mem­bers.

Fi­nal­ists will be in­ter­viewed dur­ing the LRTAV con­fer­ence at Torquay, Vic­to­ria, and the win­ner will be an­nounced on Au­gust 11.

Rob Hodge (right) with driv­ers Kyle John­ston and Kyle’s fam­ily at this year’s Camp Qual­ity Vic­to­ria Con­voy

Load­ing cat­tle at a Vic­to­rian feed­lot for de­liv­ery to Tas­ma­nia

Michelle Stevens from sponsor Grif­fiths Goodall In­surance Bro­kers and Rob Hodge with the 2016 LRTAV Young Driver tro­phy

Fed­eral trans­port min­is­ter Dar­ren Ch­ester pre­sented Rob with his Young Driver Award at the 2016 LRTAV con­fer­ence

Load­ing sheep at the Bendigo yards

Hodges’ Blakeville yards with An­gus stud bulls bound for King Is­land

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