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

Not enough information for cannabis referendum vote

At next year’s general election, the New Zealand public will vote yes or no to a referendum question around legalising recreational cannabis use throughout the country.

That vote will focus on the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, a draft of which was released by Justice Minister Andrew Little on 3 December.

The road freight transport industry has serious misgivings about this draft Bill. It is woefully incomplete, dangerously naïve, too narrow in focus, and lacking in critical detail. It is too incomplete to vote on and people need the full picture before such a vote.

For safety sensitive industries such as road freight transport, we cannot see how this Bill will in any way correlate to the strict health and safety legislation in New Zealand. In fact, in the section (8) that outlines the “Relationship between Act and other enactments”, there is no mention of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, which holds employers and Boards strictly liable for the health and safety of their workers.

The road is the truck drivers’ workplace, so we care a lot about road safety. We cannot see how this Bill will in any way contribute to safer roads, which is allegedly of critical importance to this Government. We already have a situation where the number of people being killed by drug impaired drivers on New Zealand roads eclipses those killed by drivers above the alcohol limit.

Indeed, in releasing the Bill, Minister Little was quoted as saying that exploring the risks of drugged driving and workplace impairment would be pushed back until after the referendum vote.

That is not good enough. People should be given all the facts before they vote on this Bill.

International research shows that where cannabis is legalised, consumption is higher and new users enter the market. So potentially, we have more drugged drivers on the road.

Deloitte has done a number of reports on Canada, which has legalised the use of recreational cannabis nationwide. They make for interesting reading.

The Deloitte report, A society in transition, an industry ready to bloom, surveyed current and likely cannabis consumers across Canada in early 2018, to gain insights into how consumption levels might change, what kinds of products consumers would be interested in, and how and where they’d like to purchase. They found that purchases by current and likely frequent cannabis consumers were set to rise up to 22 percent after legalisation.

The report says: “We see a more significant change in behaviour among less frequent consumers, both current and likely. After legalization, purchase frequency in this group is poised to raise 121 percent”.

It is incredibly naïve to believe that where there are commercial imperatives, anyone involved in making money from cannabis sales will in any way be focused on reducing consumption.

Research in the United States shows an increase in road crashes in states that have legalised marijuana, compared to states where marijuana is not legal. There is a need for more research in this area, but it is important to note. This evidence is incongruous with the New Zealand Government’s Road to Zero road safety strategy.

We don’t believe the Government is giving the full picture of the direct and unintended consequences of the Bill. Some big impact questions for safety sensitive industries need to be answered, particularly around liability when WorkSafe fines for workplace accidents are now well into six figures.

There are too many unanswered questions and after the referendum, that this current Government would consider binding, is too late for those answers. That’s what they call closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Worker freedom and flexibility being eroded by law changes

The Government’s move to “one size fits all” with its employment and immigration law changes will restrict the freedom and flexibility truck drivers currently enjoy.

With an election year coming, the unions are flexing their muscles. Fresh from making new employees be employed under terms consistent with the collective agreement for their first 30 days, as per changes to the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018, they are chasing Fair Pay Agreements, and Multiple Employer Collective Agreements (MECAs). There is no interest in the wider road freight transport sector for MECA agreements.

The Government continues to ignore businesses that are happily going about their business without the restrictive hands of the unions. The RTF has recently submitted on the Designing a Fair Pay Agreements System Discussion Paper and the Addressing Temporary Migrant Worker Exploitation: Consultation Document. It’s almost a fulltime job trying to keep up with all the changes this Government wants to make to restrict business.

We do not support the Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) because they will distort the market and create a number of undesirable outcomes. Unionising the workforce will not alleviate a worker shortage, or improve conditions. Quite the opposite will occur; it will make the road freight industry less attractive to people who want flexibility, including women who are enjoying working in trucking because the can start work early and get home in time to manage the day and after-school activities for their children.

This is at a time when we are focused on increasing diversity in our industry and encouraging employers to provide the flexibility to encourage that.

We believe the proposals in this particular discussion document risk returning the road freight transport industry to pre-1991 bargaining conditions, which we do not support. We want to move forwards, not back 30 years.

The employment landscape has changed since the heyday of the unions back somewhere in history. FPAs will be expensive and slow for employers and consequently, employees, particularly for the small to medium sized companies that make up the bulk of the road freight transport industry.

We believe a voluntary approach is more balanced with today’s business environment. Government support for industries, such as ours, rather than the demonising we are seeing with statements such as “getting dangerous trucks off the road”, would be more useful in solving both the road freight industry’s worker shortages and getting people who are out of work into rewarding careers.

The anti-immigration stance of this Government is making it so difficult for employers to employ the seasonal visitor workforce, those workers are no longer even coming here.

Recent changes to immigration policy also conspire against improving conditions in the workplace. Making it almost impossible to hire migrant truck drivers to pick up some of the workload will only increase the workload for New Zealand drivers. There is enough work to go around, with the road freight task increasing. There seems to be no logic in play.

We accept there is opportunity in New Zealand for worker exploitation – that is for all workers, not specifically migrants. We believe the best approach to this is to ensure first, education about rights under the law. The second step is to ensure the investigative resource is available and suitably trained to carry out effective investigations across the whole supply chain.

In our industry, drivers want choices about how and when they work. Trucking varies tremendously between different companies, regions, freight types and vehicles used. National, or even regional awards, are not going to be flexible enough to allow for that variation, or to meet driver needs. With driver shortages, good drivers have flexibility and are well paid.

The next line of attack from the Government is going to be on independent contractors, that is, people who want to work for themselves. The impacts of that go right to the heart of our industry – many owner-drivers work on contract to larger companies. This issue is currently being debated by the trucking industry in California, where the industry is saying it will dramatically affect upwards of 70,000 drivers who will possibly elect to either leave the state, or the occupation entirely. Submissions close on 14 February 2020 on the Better protections for contractors: Discussion document for public feedback, which is another one for our pile.

You are left wondering when the Government will start listening to the experts in business who drive the economy.

– 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

Shaping work-based training important for our industry’s future

Heralded as a new dawn for work skills and training, there were a lot of words in the polytechnic and industry training reform announcements from the Government last week, but not a lot of detail for us to work with.

Being an optimist, this could be seen as a good thing. Our sector needs to recognise that change is coming and be positive and constructive about that. What are the legacy components of work-place based training and skills that we want to preserve, and what can we improve on so that more people engage with our industry?

As an industry with worker shortages, we are all about industry training. It is hard to see these announcements enhancing the relationship between government, education providers and industry, but we are willing to keep an open mind and we hope to be consulted on how road freight transport can benefit from future vocational education changes. We would be keen to see where we fit in the Workforce Development Councils, but at the moment, we have more questions than answers.

We made a submission on the proposed reforms and we were clear that we support the goal of rationalising the vocational training and education sector so that all qualifications and the way they are delivered are the same.

However, where we have landed thus far feels like we are looking at the same regime with different titles and management structures – with a strong injection of the unions – to deliver the same outcomes.

We question if the cost to the taxpayers and the disruption to both learners and those working in vocational education and training are worth it, if it is the same wheel, reinvented with a different look only. And we believe unionism should remain voluntary, not become compulsory.

Our industry recognises the very real issues the Education Minister is grappling with. We can also see why it is tempting to group the efficient and effective Industry Training Organisations (ITO) in with a total change. However, in our submission, we suggested the ITOs – which make up just 6% of tertiary funding – should not be reformed currently. We contended that could be assessed later, once changes to polytechnics are bedded down and the benefits evaluated.

In our view, the key outcomes of the reform should be to:

  • Create an attractive regime that addresses inequity and inequality
  • Have industry driven and guided training and qualifications
  • Create a system that end users want to participate in
  • Create world leading and integrated vocational education

Our view was there was strength in ITO model because it was industry-led, industry-governed and therefore, responsive to the needs of industry.

I was recently appointed to the MITO Board and attended my first meeting this week. It is fair to say that in an environment of disruption and an information void, sustaining interest in training programmes and keeping good people could be a challenge.

While we wait to see what shape future training will take, we are focused on finding industry-led solutions and the Road Transport Forum has taken responsibility for future development of the Sector Workforce Engagement Programme (SWEP). This means we can look at education and training in the areas most likely to be a source of future employees.  RTF is keen to see a formalised industry-led cadetship programme developed that has clear parameters and appropriate levels of recognition and opportunities for cadets.

We are also supportive of the MITO’s ShiftUp programme, that offers secondary school students learning opportunities in the road transport industry, with credits towards NCEA and an introduction to the workplace. That programme was launched this year.

It is always good to look to the future, but you also need to keep one eye on the now. We have to be careful that as this Government looks to a fossil-fuel free, carbon neutral, highly automated (driverless trucks), “knowledge economy” with no one in the trades and no need for immigration, that we remember that is all some way off. We need drivers now so that the supermarkets don’t run out of food, the hospitals don’t run out of medicine, and the economy, although slowing, can continue to provide us with our unique Kiwi way of life.

– Nick Leggett – CEO, Road Transport Forum

Road transport industry to talk about mental health

Every year in New Zealand about 500 people take their own lives. Many more attempt suicide and more still suffer from anxiety and depression. We are known for our high suicide rate among young people.

Our collective mental health is at such a point that in the 2019 Wellbeing Budget, the top spend of $1.9 billion was announced for improving mental health services.

Government data suggests one-in-five New Zealanders experience mental health and addiction challenges at any given time.

The road transport industry is of course, not immune to mental health and addiction. There are intense time and cost pressures to deal with every day for businesses, and for drivers, often a long time each day is spent alone. We want to take a look at mental health in our industry at the 2019 Road Transport Forum Conference in September, and we’re thrilled to have Craig Membrey as our keynote speaker.

Craig hails from Dandenong, near Melbourne in Australia, where he heads Membrey’s Transport & Crane Hire. He took over the business from his father, Jack. He has had four children and was hoping to have his eldest son join him running the family business, but he lost Rowan tragically in 2011 at the age of 17, when Rowan took his own life. This caused Craig to change some of his focus and resulted in him becoming an Ambassador for Beyond Blue, a not-for-profit organisation focused on mental health. They are an organisation he holds close to his heart and dedicates a lot of time to. This loss also prompted Craig to do up a truck dedicated to the memory of Rowan.

Craig speaks about his personal experience and we believe that while this is a confronting issue, it is something we need to feel comfortable talking about so that if people need help, they know what to do.

Our focus on mental health includes other speakers, Dr Tom Mulholland and Dr Lucia Kelleher.  Dr Tom is an emergency department doctor and best-selling author who began his career working in forestry, before going on to med school. In his talks he provides the audience with tools to deal with their physical health and mental resilience.

Dr Lucia is a behavioural neuroscientist with decades of experience helping businesses develop people in safety critical roles. She will talk about Busy Brain Syndrome as the root cause of autopilot behaviours – when you think you are focused, but you are not.

The Conference will also cover economics, businesses and HR practices, and political commentary from Transport Minister Phil Twyford, Forestry, Infrastructure and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, and National Party transport spokesperson Chris Bishop.  

It’s important for the road transport industry to get together annually and talk about collective issues, the business and political landscape, and the health and welfare of their employees.

You can read more about the speakers at the Conference, at Wairakei Resort on 24 and 25 September, and get Conference details here.

Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Where to find help and support for mental health:
Need to Talk? – Call or text 1737
Lifeline – 0800 543 354
Youthline – 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz  or online chat
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Illegal and unsafe behaviour must be stopped

The road transport industry has been hit by some publicity recently that could be seen to put industry employment practices into a dim light and I want to address that.

There is video footage in the public domain that appears to show practices the Road Transport Forum (RTF) considers completely unacceptable in the trucking industry. We believe the behaviour on the video is not indicative of wider industry practices. The video footage relates to a matter before the Courts and I will not comment on that.

I will say, that we strongly support endeavours to weed out illegal behaviour that compromises the safety of workers and the New Zealand public, including the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) increasing its regulatory and compliance audits on the industry.

All road transport employees are employed under New Zealand law and their contracts and work conditions must reflect that. As such, employees are entitled to regular breaks, which they must be allowed to take. Employers cannot ask their employees to break the law. As part of good employment practices, employers should ensure employees are aware of what they can do if they feel unsafe in the workplace.

There’s information about employment on the government’s Employment New Zealand website (www.employment.govt.nz) and at Employment Agreement Builder to assist employers in meeting the law and getting it right. The RTF does not accept workers being employed without contracts as that is against the law.

I also want to be very clear that as an industry body, we advocate on behalf of road transport businesses to allow for workers from overseas to come to New Zealand to work for them. We want to support employing New Zealanders first, but there is simply too big a gap between the jobs that need to be filled and the New Zealanders available.

Any migrant workers are covered by New Zealand employment law. They have the same rights as citizen workers and should not be exploited.

It’s important that the trucking industry – and all industries – understand that it’s likely that sourcing migrant labour will become harder as the Government focuses attention on training and employing Kiwis as a first priority. Rules around this will likely become more evident over the next few months. As I have said above, investing in training all staff, paying them fairly, and allowing them their rest and break periods, should be non-negotiable for all trucking operators.

As an industry body we work with government regulators to ensure the road transport industry is constantly improving health and safety. We believe that technology that is available now, and will be developed in the future, will contribute to this. For example, electronic logbooks can ensure an appropriate record of hours worked and breaks taken, as per employment law, particularly if aligned with GPS information.

At RTF we are working hard to attract workers to the road transport industry and to show career pathways that are rewarding. That can quickly be derailed by bad publicity, even if that publicity is only reflective of one or two industry players. Perception is reality.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

 

Professional road users committed to safety

During Road Safety Week 2019, I would like to acknowledge the great work many in the road transport industry are doing to ensure the safety of both their staff and all other road users.

Individual transport companies have staff and vehicles that travel millions of kilometres each year. Safety has to be a top priority when your machinery and people are travelling such vast distances. I got a first-hand run down of what companies are doing when I met with Greg Pert and Jackie Carroll from Tranzliquid (pictured) in Tauranga this week. Theirs is just one example of how companies integrate safety into their operations and their choice of investment in equipment, to ensure their staff get home safely after every trip.

Tranzliquid has combined new technologies and driver training in a commitment to safety. Staff are trained on “observation, anticipation and planning” so that they can manage risks and drive to the conditions.

We know that speed, fatigue and inattention are the big causes of accidents. To combat fatigue, Tranzliquid has designed a system that steps drivers through processes, while driving, to avoid fatigue. This includes a connection with the dispatcher at home base.

Safety features on vehicles now include:

  • Collision avoidance
  • Lane departure
  • Blind spot proximity
  • Disc brakes
  • EBS/ABS
  • Drag torque – anti wheel lock (in snow for instance)
  • Under run – side
  • Under run – front

They know of an incident where the under run on a truck proved life-saving for a car driver who fell asleep and hit a Tranzliquid truck.

Their business aim is to protect their drivers, other road users, their cargo and equipment and they are focused on happy staff and a downwards trend of accidents or incidents.

But they also say, there is only so much businesses can do and road conditions and congestion are impacting on productivity because they cannot move freight around fast enough.

If you can’t maximise the benefits of your clever trucks, there are consequences down the line, including an impact on the wider economy. For example, you might have 30 loads to get to Auckland but you can only manage to get 26 there, due to traffic and road works. The customer and carrier both incur additional costs in delays, and the loss of productivity and efficiency for the transport company reduces their ability and incentive to invest in new equipment and vehicles.

The road transport industry can only do so much to ensure safety. I am constantly being told that drivers are noticing the deteriorating condition of the roads, which will affect the safety of all people using them. Let’s not forget the behavior, skills and attention of all drivers on our roads.

As an economy that relies on goods being transported – to ports and airports for export and around the country for everything that keeps the country ticking – it is essential that the Government invests in more than just median barriers and rumble strips. Shifting the dial and reducing accidents rates and death on the roads involves focusing on many different aspects as outlined above. It will take a long time. It’s a responsibility that falls on all of our shoulders as road users.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum