Embracing the changing face of road transport

Last night on Newstalk ZB, when Heather du Plessis Allan was promoting her guest, a truck driver who won the EROAD Young Driver of the Year at this week’s NZ Road Transport Industry Awards, she said “and they are not going to be what you’d expect”.

As she introduced the winner, she reiterated that she thought it was unusual to find a 27-year-old woman switching from being a barista to driving logging trucks.

Summer Thompson (pictured above, left) was a barista at Robert Harris in Tokoroa who chatted to the many truck drivers who came in for coffee and food daily. One day, she asked her now employer, Graham Sheldrake, if he taught young people to driving logging trucks.

Summer did a great interview on NewstalkZB. When asked if she got a hard time from the men, she said quite the opposite was true and everyone was incredibly supportive and helpful.

Graham Sheldrake took her on as a permanent employee and sent her out with the most experienced driver to do her training. She flew through the licences and now drives a Kenworth K200, that is a 50-max unit. As she explained to Heather, that’s a big truck.

In her acceptance speech at the awards Summer acknowledged her fellow finalist, Toni Tawhara (pictured above, right), from Talley’s Group Limited in Motueka, and showed the kind of inclusiveness and leadership we want to see coming through the industry. Toni is 25, and she is a very competent class 5 driver.

Both these young women are impressive and the line-up of finalists for the awards showed there is diversity in the industry and we need to encourage it. Of the five awards, three went to women who are showing skills and leadership, and two went to stalwarts who are still as passionate about the industry as they were when they entered. We definitely believe the young have plenty to learn from the more experienced in the industry. (You can read about all the award winners here.)

But how they learn and what they want from their career has changed and our industry needs to understand this. At the RTF Annual Conference this week, we had speakers that challenged the industry to get on board with the changing face of the workforce and to think about how they can retain good staff by being flexible to their needs.

Melanie Boyle, founder of Women Step Forward, and Margaret Kouvelis, CEO of Talent Central, talked about the opportunities that employing a diverse workforce, including women and Millennials, can bring. They encouraged a change in mindset, particularly when it comes to entrenched ideas about young people not being as hardworking as their parents.

We also presented a strong focus on health and wellbeing. Our keynote speaker Craig Membrey, from Australia, was on TVNZ Breakfast and One News on the eve of the conference and confronted the devastating issue of depression and suicide. He touched a nerve with many people and it was humbling to see him share his very personal experiences with such emotion.

Dr Tom Mulholland and Dr Lucia Kelleher covered how physical and mental health are linked and the dangers of not paying attention to both when it comes to road safety.

Employers have a responsibility to ensure the workplace meets health and safety law and for our industry, it is critical that attention is paid to this as we share the road with the public. A moment’s distraction can cost lives. At the same time, an instinctive decision borne of years of experience can save lives, as we saw in the story of our Castrol Truck Driver Hero award winner Rex Temm, from Riordan & West in Te Awamutu. His quick thinking and knowledge of how to manoeuvre his truck saved a lone toddler from wandering onto a busy State Highway One, near Tokoroa, into the path of a heavily laden logging truck.

The annual conference was two days of making connections, hearing new things, making new friends and catching up with old ones, and generally showing an industry that has challenges, but is meeting them with pragmatism.

Thanks to the organisers and to everyone who attended.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum


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