For over two decades, Kerri Connors has been breaking stereotypes and changing perceptions with her efforts being recognised on a world stage.
The mum from Tasmania, developed her love for all things trucks when she was just a young girl, and since then she has worked for multinational operators, represented Australia in the global Fuelwatch Challenge and has become an advocate for greater training and education.
“I grew up on a farm in Tassie and I'd get to drive the truck around the paddock, which was pretty exciting when you’re just a teenager.”
“Following school, I joined the army and went into the Royal Australian Transport Corps. for five years so my love of truck driving grew.”
“I truly believe it was my army training that absolutely set me up for the rest of my life. I think when people know that you're adaptable and that you’re well-trained, they are willing to give you a go.”
“The proper training makes all the difference.”
And it was Kerri’s training and experience that led to tenures with global logistics companies such as Toll and Linfox, in Sydney.
In search of her next challenge, Kerri moved back to Tasmania when an opportunity in fuel came about with Caltas.
“I was looking for something a bit different, and that offered a work life balance so I could start my family. I had no training for fuel, but Caltas took me on and taught me everything about fuel that I know.”
And while having her family changed Kerri’s life, there was still another major life-changing opportunity to follow.
“About two years ago, my boss rang me and said that I had been nominated to go to the Volvo Fuel Challenge, by Caltex, as they were looking for a female driver to represent them. Of course I said yes, I honestly had no idea what was involved, but it sounded like fun and a great opportunity. “
Kerri blitzed the competition, taking home the national title.
“From there I was given the honour of working with Bill Matten, before I packed my bags and headed to Sweden for the global Fuelwatch Challenge, taking on the best from 13 countries around the world and ultimately finishing equal second.”
“That opportunity changed my life, returning to Australia, people wanted to talk to me, I now have a voice, I now have an audience and people are interested in my opinion and what I have to say.”
“As every driver can relate, when you're driving, you spend a lot of time thinking of how you could fix the world.”
For Kerri, the difference she would like to see is greater training and education, starting when kids are still at school.
“While this next generation will excel at navigating the apps and systems, they just don’t have the opportunities we had to get some experience in driving the actual truck, and this is very concerning.”
“They need driving hours on the actual road in different types of trucks, in different types of conditions. There’s just no course out there that's affordable for anybody to be able to go and do that.”
“If someone wants to learn how to build houses, they learn on the job, from those in the know, they build their hours up, they complete an apprenticeship and they become qualified.
“So, why is truck-driving any different? Why can't we have an apprenticeship or traineeship, so they can get some experience with drivers on the road, doing real work, learning how to secure a load, learning how to understand their work diary and how to get around in the traffic?”
“It’s such a dangerous job. We are effectively sending people out on the road with very little experience and expecting them to sink or swim, but when they sink, it’s everybody else that gets hurt.”
“One of the biggest things that I enjoy is teaching car drivers or non-truck drivers how to share the road safely with trucks.”
“We have to connect with young people before they get their license, so we need to connect with them at school teach them how to drive safely and understand other road users”
“I would love for this to become part of the year 9 or 10 curriculum. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but perhaps a generalised training package that is delivered online over so many weeks as part of their education.”
“Just the key messages that they will remember and take with them when they take to the roads.”
“It’s going to take time, but that’s okay, it’s a work in progress and I am totally committed and so are many other amazing people in the industry that are keen for change.”