Tough Torque with Trevor: Where Will the Drivers Come From?

We head into the new year with strong growth predictions for the road transport industry despite the various comments from the government on trying to move freight on to rail and coastal shipping.

At present, we have both these options and years of experience show that New Zealand will always be dependent on road transport, you can throw millions into rail but for over the last 50 years numerous attempts to make it work have turned into financial disasters.

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, but that’s the Labour Party story for rail.

I remember when I first started in magazine publishing we had the Richard Prebble ‘Save Rail’ campaign that cost the country millions then we can all remember the Helen Clark government and its disastrous deal with Toll and the cost to the New Zealand public of that debacle.

That aside there is still going to be strong demand for road transport and as an industry we have a critical problem of driver shortages.

I know you have all heard it before and it is the constant topic when groups of transport operators get together but it is alarming how little is being done about it.

Yes, I am aware that we have the SWEP programme and that there are numerous isolated initiatives taking place around the country but honestly where are these taking us?
How many more drivers are they producing? What are the industry KPI’s to measure results?

What’s called for here is a fully co-ordinated national strategy with clear KPI’s and clear strategies that work.

What’s also called for is a change of attitude from some transport operators. It seems like the road transport industry is shouting to itself rather than the greater New Zealand population.

I see on television news that the construction industry is running national recruitment programmes around the country regularly as well as attending international events to promote a career in their industry in New Zealand as they face up to their predicted growth levels, but I’m not seeing very much at all in the media coverage for the road transport industry shortages. In road transport too often I hear complaining about driver shortages but I don’t hear a positive response to the problem.

When transport operators are offered chances to invest in various initiatives all too often I hear the response, it’s not my problem somebody else should fix it. Even worse I hear of young people and also some not so young people wanting to join our industry and being told to go away and get more experience, how do they do that if the transport operators don’t front up and start offering that training and experience. You can only go on so long poaching each-other’s drivers, we need to bring in new blood and we need to make it easy for them to join the industry, not hard.

Next it comes to the supply and demand situation, with a shortage of supply then we need to look at pay rates. You can’t expect to attract drivers if you can’t offer competitive wages.
If this situation is going to get better and New Zealand business is going to have an effective road transport industry then freight rates will have to rise.

Drivers need to be paid competitive wages, let’s face it we send them out there in trucks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with valuable freight, we regularly expect them to stay away from home and work irregular hours.

It’s not all negative, there are some companies out there doing very good work in this area but unfortunately there are not enough.

Every transport company in New Zealand needs to take some ownership of this problem and put in place an entry level pathway into the industry. Even if it means starting off with driver’s assistants or putting a small truck or two on, several operators have done this and been surprised at how well this has worked for them with new recruits becoming valuable employees and the small trucks becoming very good earners for the company.

Next time a young person or a new industry entrant comes to you looking to join the industry don’t send them off to get more experience think about, “how can I give them that experience?”

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