While SA has a shortage of skilled commercial truck drivers, it has been slow to embrace the untapped potential of female drivers. Picture: SUPPLIED
While SA has a shortage of skilled commercial truck drivers, it has been slow to embrace the untapped potential of female drivers. Picture: SUPPLIED

Nicci Scott, who runs Commercial Truck Association, has a dream. Her efforts don’t only address gender parity in the truck driving sector with her crop of highly determined, well-trained female drivers but she is creating employment opportunities for SA women in economic plight.

Driving today is a gender-neutral task. Perhaps decades ago when commercial vehicles were still crude things that required herculean strength to operate there would have been justification of sorts, but their ease of manoeuvre these days have opened up prospects not only for female drivers, but even for males who wouldn’t have cut the mustard pre-power steering days.

Having started with 10 women through a learnership funded by Isuzu Trucks in 2018, where Scott’s women drivers who are trained in a standard 12-month learnership to become a professional drivers, there’s even quantifiable proof that female drivers lower running costs in cases such as fuel consumption and risk of mechanical failure.

According to Scott, with a 51% representation, the majority of SA’s female population, mostly the Black African group, suffer the worst in the country’s ongoing economy.

On the other hand due to numerous reasons such retirements and a general lack of interest in the sector, it’s been calculated that the commercial driving sector in SA is short of about 15,000 drivers. In the light of these statistics, Scott says these vacancies are an opportune moment to fill up with female drivers who need employment.

Not only has she identified a gap but her company, CTA, searches for, grooms and finds permanent employment for the female drivers. A tie up with Volvo Commercial, the Swedish truck brand that also has a desire to develop female truck drivers, has seen the successful training of 50 women in 2019 through the Volvo Iron Women programme and another 10 women funded by Coca-Cola to become owner-drivers.

It’s a fantastic programme but it isn’t without foibles. When she first started with the training programme, Scott’s male driving staff went on a protest, citing fear of losing their jobs.

“In hindsight I should have sat the men down and explained the positive aspects of such a programme,” said Scott. Apart from the encroachment fears of men in the industry, and which according to one of the first female graduates of the training who is already in the employ of a trucking company, at times include attempts of being literally pushed off the road by male drivers, the industry seemingly is also not entirely ready for women truckers.

“Safety on the road is a major concern for our women drivers,” says Scott. “The few dedicated truck stops don’t have facilities that serve the convenience of women. The industry standards dictate that drivers of small to medium trucks must not sleep inside the vehicles, [so] we do set up our female drivers in motels for overnight stops, but this doesn’t mean there’s female bathroom facilities at many of these stops.

We are hopeful that these issues will get addressed as we deploy more women.”

What of tradition and family dynamics, and the reaction of male partners, more so with the many days on the road?

“Yes, it’s one of many challenges we face daily, including the looks of surprise we get from fellow truck drivers and clients,” says Scott.

“My standard reply to your question, or indeed that of any concerned partner would be this is much-needed employment.” 

A second group of women has begun its practical work experience phase and they will be available for employment from January 2020.