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
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.”
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