Get ready for the youth wave

Sometimes, it’s the small things that Governments do that have the biggest impact.

Last month, Employment Minister Willie Jackson launched a Youth Ready Employer Programme, aimed at ensuring employers have all the tools they need to employ young people.

For something that I think could have far reaching benefits, it was done in a fairly low key way. Minister Jackson had been to the UK and met two amazing young entrepreneurs – Jack Parsons and Ben Towers – who are all about getting young people into work, as well as getting employers to understand the benefits of employing young people and how to go about that.

Their message is so personal and compelling, these entrepreneurs travelled to New Zealand to talk to businesses for the launch of the programme, which is a collaboration between Ministry of Social Development, the Auckland Business Chamber and its wider chamber network, and Parsons and Towers.

As each generation ages, they tend to criticise the younger generation coming through. But this is not going to provide the necessary solutions to both our changing work environment and our immediate and future worker and skills needs. The nature of work is changing and employers need to embrace the change and employ people who can solve problems and bring fresh ideas – perhaps doing that in a different way to the boss.

It’s time to look at it from the employee’s perspective – there are barriers for some young people to get a look in for their first job. These are things like social and economic disadvantage, mental health, and employer rules and attitudes.

Jack Parsons and Ben Towers are walking counterpoints to many of the barriers older employers might put up.

Young people spend too much time online, they might say. Is that a bad thing? Ben Towers built his first website for a family friend at the age of 11, in his bedroom. He taught himself through You Tube videos. By 13, he had a website business. He couldn’t get a business banking account until he was over 18, and by that stage he had over 20 employees. He’s 21 and sold that business for millions of dollars. He now focuses on public speaking and investing in start-ups.

They don’t dress properly the older generation might say. Jack Parsons has dealt with young people who haven’t been able to go to job interviews because they can’t afford something to wear and have been too intimidated to go into a corporate environment. He has challenged the corporates on that and suggested they meet the candidate somewhere the candidates themselves might feel comfortable, like a coffee shop.

Parsons knows all about disadvantage. Growing up, he lived on a housing estate with an alcoholic mother, he battled dyslexia and attended speech therapy. Looking around him, a life of drugs and crime was a seriously viable option. But he chose to swim rather than sink and at 20, he was chief executive of his own company, the Youth Group. He has been recognised as one of Britain’s 50 kindest leaders and he continues to offer products and services to young people looking to get a start in the business world.

Both Ben and Jack are conscious of the mental health issues that can hold back young people and they want to address these. Ben plans to launch an app to help people with loneliness and Jack talks candidly about his own mental health challenges.

Their message to employers is to understand who you are going to employ and the Youth Ready Employer tool kit, available online, gives a pathway to employers to follow to become “youth ready”. The focus is on finding ways to connect with the age group of 18 to 30-year-olds who have common characteristics, operating styles and work expectations.

This is something I think the Government has done well, that will be really helpful for businesses.

We need to reflect these principles as we build the industry cadetship. If our industry wants to attract a younger workforce, it’s the industry that must change and adapt, not the other way around.

You can find out more about the toolkit here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Employer attitudes key to solving driver shortage

The driver shortage in the road freight transport industry is well known. Since I started at the Road Transport Forum (RTF) just over a year ago, many operators have talked to me about the shortages they face in securing drivers to enable them to run their businesses effectively. Trucks are often parked up and there is a lack of choice that was once enjoyed when recruiting staff.

Our industry isn’t unique in this dilemma. An ageing population is taking its toll on our workforce, across New Zealand and the developed world. We’ve seen it coming for many years.

The world has changed and we are living in a period where there is fierce competition to secure an able, skilled and qualified workforce. Pay, conditions, and investment in training all play a part in workers making choices about jobs, and careers. Can they see a future, is there a path to promotion, management, or business ownership?

There is a stark contrast I’ve detected as I move around the country; the differences between companies that are short of drivers and those who are not. Everyone says it’s an issue for the industry, but not every operator faces it as a direct challenge in their business. Why is this? Well, for a start it appears employer attitude and commitment to staff play a big part.

I was on a regional visit recently and I met two operators one after the other. The first one had a diverse workforce, including many women drivers and an average age that was probably 15 years younger than the industry average. The team was enthusiastic about their work and genuinely committed to the company that paid them well and invested in them gaining skills and qualifications. The staff were the best ambassadors for gaining new drivers; the company literally had a waiting list of people wanting to start with them.

Another company I visited, justifiably complained about their inability to get drivers and asked about what the RTF was doing about it. When I asked how many women drivers they had working for them, they told me they didn’t like employing women because they got pregnant and they also had reservations about ethnic groups. Further revelations indicated they were a fairly poor payer compared to some of the competition. I told them that the RTF can advocate and it can help set up opportunities for the industry, but ultimately, the solution to the workforce shortage lies in every business having the right attitude to its potential workforce and making changes to shifts, pay, education and safety that better attracts a new generation of drivers.

It’s really easy to blame everyone else for a shortage, whether it be Government or whoever, but I firmly believe the solution to our industry shortages lie with us.

So how do we overcome this?

The RTF has to provide a structure for better supporting businesses to attract workers. This isn’t an overnight solution and it will take time, but I want to signal to the industry that we are aware of this issue and that this year, we hope to announce a cadetship that will begin to usher in a new generation of workers.

The good news is the industry has started putting in place the framework to support a cadetship and there are operators who want to invest in their teams’ skillsets and qualifications.

For a start, all the associations and the RTF have been involved in creating a Workforce Development Strategy with MITO. This will lead to a national action plan for which the RTF will be the primary co-ordinating body.

You can look at the very readable strategy here.

This strategy is also backed up by qualifications that operators should be focussing their staff on obtaining. The New Zealand Certificate in Commercial Road Transport Skills (Level 3) and the New Zealand Certificate in Commercial Road Transport (Heavy Vehicle Operator – Level 3), are available this year.

Once the industry demonstrates an appetite for investing in qualifications and skills, we will be in a better position to demand more support from Government. The woeful enrolments of industry workers in MITO qualifications needs to improve in 2020 if we have any chance of showing that we are serious about tackling industry shortages. Potential and current employees need to see they are valued and that their skills will be invested in by their employers. Otherwise, those five staff members you will be losing to retirement in the next three years, won’t be replaced as young people go where they are wanted.

Specific course information is here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Diversity the key to future proofing our workforce

I hear a lot about a shortage of drivers in the road freight industry and the Road Transport Forum is looking to nail down where those shortages are, and what future projections are, so we can work on a sustainable workforce.

We also want to ensure our industry’s workforce is ready for whatever the future might bring.

While there is a lot of talk of driverless trucks, we need to focus on the needs for the next five years, as well as the next 20. New Zealand’s roading network is such that it may be some time before a truck can self-guide from Kerikeri to Bluff; but that’s not to say it won’t happen.

Roads have been used to trade goods since the beginning of civilisation, so it is likely there will be some form of road freight transport for some time yet.

Some immediate steps that can be taken to build a better workforce include thinking outside the square and looking at the diverse willing workers available and giving them a chance. Another way to attract workers, and I have seen evidence of this in the industry, is to offer good wages so people can establish a “career” and feel secure.

At our conference on 24 and 25 September, at Wairakei Resort, near Taupo, we have some speakers who might challenge freight operators in their workforce thinking. That’s not to say we don’t have a diverse workforce, but we possibly don’t promote that aspect of the industry well and there’s always room to grow and change.

It is interesting that despite perceptions, many women work in road transport in New Zealand. I enjoyed meeting some from Otago and Southland last Friday night in Cromwell – pictured above. These women are company directors, dispatchers, shareholders, drivers and CEOs.

They see the value of being part of a workforce that underpins the economy. New Zealand is a trading nation and all day, every day, goods are making their way to markets, firstly by truck.

Then there are the essentials of life we need in New Zealand – food, medicines, and all those packages we order on line – they all get delivered by a truck, some direct to your door.

Some of the operators I’ve spoken to are keen to employ women drivers; they think they are careful and secure employees. They’ve had one woman come through the door, and others have followed and they’ve been happy about that.

So, let’s make sure we have the facilities and the culture that make it easy for women, young people, and people from the range of cultures that make up New Zealand, to be part of our industry.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum