THE NATIONAL Road Association is calling on National Cabinet to address “a looming crisis” for the supply chain after a survey identified a severe shortage of truck drivers in Australia.

The association is pushing for immediate action, proposing incentive programs to diversify the workforce and encourage current operators to stay in the industry.

The Driver Shortage Survey is an annual initiative of the International Road Transport Union, conducted this year in partnership with NatRoad.

Preliminary results for Australia – a first for the international survey – highlighted “critical driver shortages” across all business sizes and types in the trucking sector, from owner-operators to large fleet managers.

NatRoad CEO Warren Clark said the results pointed to a crisis for the trucking industry and the national economy.

“We’re seeing a huge gap in the number of drivers required and the downstream impact on our supply chain and our country is significant,” Mr Clark said.

“Over 26,000 drivers are needed to fill the current gaps in our sector, with big fleet operators the most impacted.

“When there is a need for around 180,000 drivers for an effective sector, this represents a 14.4% shortfall, well over the current national job vacancy rate of between 5 and 6%.”

The trucking industry is also facing a significant demographic challenge, with a large portion of drivers nearing retirement age. The survey found almost 50% of all drivers were above the age of 55. The average age was 49 years old.

And the industry is also struggling with age and gender diversity; results suggest 5.2% of drivers are under the age of 25 and 6.5% are women.

“We are expecting the NSW road freight requirements to increase by 57.1% by 2040, so we must act now to secure our supply chain,” Mr Clark said.

“The survey results underscore the urgent need for National Cabinet to explore measures to secure the national supply chain.

“We need to develop incentive programs that make the trucking industry more appealing to young people and women, while encouraging current operators to continue their careers.

“This includes investing in training programs that equip new drivers with the necessary skills, improving career pathways into the industry, including better access to apprenticeships and traineeships, and focusing on increasing the number of young and female drivers.”

Mr Clark said Australia also needs to improve the quality of training and licensing and enhance working conditions for drivers.

“This means addressing issues such as non-safety related fines, improving the quality and quantity of rest areas, and recognising the essential role of truck drivers by treating them with respect, including at customer depots and delivery sites,” he said.

“The supply chain is the backbone of our economy, and without enough drivers, the entire system is at risk. We need immediate action from the government to prevent further disruption.”

Further data from the survey is due to be released in August.