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

Growing divide impacts mental health

There seems to be a divide growing in New Zealand and it is impacting the mental health and wellbeing of many.

The Government ideology and the judgement that comes with that, leaves large chunks of society on the outer and subject to often quite confrontational aggression – both in person and on line. There seems to be little scope for people to ask questions, or think a different way.

The trucking industry is feeling the heat. You have the Prime Minister saying she wants to take trucks off the road, allegedly for environmental reasons. When Saudi Arabia is the subject of a drone strike that impacts its oil production, Green’s leader James Shaw doesn’t spare a thought for the people of Saudi Arabia before getting on Twitter and saying: “Oil is unreliable, erratic and volatile. We should not be relying on it for fuel.”

The hysteria around “planet” is leaving “people” out of the future picture. The reality is that many of those throwing stones rely on use of fossil fuels for the comfort of their everyday lives. Our politicians who live outside Wellington, hop on planes at least two times a week. All the food, medicine, and necessities of life come to them via trucks. Those trucks currently rely on fossil fuels because no one has yet invented a viable alternative to be adopted at scale. When they do, and it can perform the task, meet environmental goals, and is priced appropriately, the road freight transport industry will get on board.

Living in the right here, right now, the Road Transport Forum will be taking a look at the impact these troubled times have on mental health and well being at our conference next week.

At Wairakei Resort on Tuesday 24 September, we hope keynote speaker and Australian trucking operator Craig Membrey will pull no punches. He has first-hand experience to draw on. His teenage son committed suicide and Craig is open on the topic of suicide, anxiety and depression and the effect it has had on him and his family’s lives. For many years, he has been an ambassador for Beyond Blue – a not-for-profit organisation in Australia that focuses on mental health – and he talks to people from all walks of life.

Other speakers addressing health and well being at the two-day conference – on 24 and 25 September – include Dr Tom Mulholland and Dr Lucia Kelleher. Dr Tom Mulholland is an expert on workplace stress and Dr Lucia Kelleher helps businesses develop people in safety critical roles to take personal responsibility for being safe consistently. She discovered Busy Brain Syndrome, which manifests as attention overload due to too much environmental stimulus, causing the brain’s attention bandwidth to halve.

We are concerned about the stressful environment for truck drivers and want to be proactive in developing a culture where people have the tools to deal with stress, anxiety and depression.

We lose enough lives on the roads in New Zealand to crashes, we don’t want to add to that in any way.

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)

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)