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