Road safety remains a major challenge in South Africa as around 14 000 people die in road collisions every year. A critical shortage of skilled commercial vehicle drivers is one of the contributing factors to the country’s high accident rate; training therefore remains instrumental in efforts to improve road safety.
Statistically female drivers are more risk averse and defensive drivers. Providing more drivers with the necessary skills will therefore not only benefit the industry, but also the economy, our business and the community as a whole. Women are also less likely to quit driving, which is particularly critical as turnover rates among truck drivers can reach up to 90%. These are the main driving forces for the establishment of Iron Women, a heavy-duty truck driving school for women, sponsored by Volvo Group Southern Africa.
“Volvo is committed to educating women to qualify as heavy-duty commercial truck drivers, says Marcus Hörberg, Vice President of Volvo Group Southern Africa. “With women severely underrepresented in the industry, it is hoped that this initiative will help increase the pool of skilled women drivers in the country. This will not only help address the driver shortage, but hopefully improve road safety as well.”
The aim of the programme is to enhance the capacity of professional drivers and ultimately to enable them to contribute to their future employers’ fleet productivity, safety, profitability and efficiency. This qualification, approved by the Transport Education Training Authority, is based on both theoretical and practical modules. The first round of 20 women started their training in January 2019 at the Commercial Transport Academy (CTA) and are due to graduate this coming June.
A welcome contribution to gender diversity in the local transport industry
According to Nicci Scott, Founder of CTA, gender diversity in the non-traditional occupation of truck driving in South Africa was destined to be a challenge due to the shortage of skilled female truck drivers in the market seeking employment.
“Stereotyping and unchallenged biases of traditional recruitment policies are just the start of the challenges women seeking employment in the transport industry, are facing,” explains Nicci Scott. “In addition, the lack of sufficient infrastructure to support a tired female driver on long-haul routes, is another barrier that needs to be overcome.”
Scott says that the cost of acquiring a heavy-duty truck driver’s license is out of reach for many unemployed women and even when they can fund the process, their lack of driving experience will most likely exclude them from securing employment. The positive data supporting the risk-averse nature of female drivers resulting in positive driving behaviours and attitudes, have so far, not been enough to shift the traditional mindset of many transport operators.
“This is why the support from a company with the calibre of the Volvo Group, means so much to us as an organisation, but also to every woman who is seeking to better her and her family’s life by becoming a truck operator,” says Nicci Scott. “This program ticks every box and has the ability to emancipate women from unemployment.”
The funds allocated to this project has opened the doors to engage with stakeholders who have the capacity to employ the learners. In addition, it will place pressure on petroleum companies to invest in safe dual facilities at rest stops.
“We are very proud to make a tangible contribution towards developing driver skills,” says Marcus Hörberg. “We believe that this project has the potential to affect change in the local transport industry, which will truly benefit from more gender diversity.”
Voices from Iron Women participating in the training
“I do not think the world is ready to receive female drivers, but as a woman, I feel that I need to embrace the challenge and prove that we too can do this, without any special treatment. I know that I can influence and empower young women – I really am an Iron Woman! With this opportunity, I have found purpose and it has boosted my self-confidence. This programme has encouraged me to go back to school, I want to learn more,” says Rirhandzu Baloyi.
“My dad, who is 78 years old, was a truck driver for over 40 years. He questioned my ability to do this and my response was ‘if you could do this, so can I’. I want to become an owner-driver someday, but I need to start somewhere – and this is my chance to shine. Our biggest challenge is discrimination against women and we must change that mindset. They must not accommodate us, they must accept us! Do I think this will change? It already has - my dad is so proud of me. A million thanks, not just because I am one of the first intakes, but also for those women to follow in this programme,” says Dorha Mabaso.