Training the road to success

Covid-19 has changed the way we do business and given many people pause to think about the work they do.

School leavers are looking at an uncertain future of work, and many of those who were in work have seen the industries they worked in disappear and their jobs go with it. Those in work also face uncertainty and might be thinking about training and gaining qualifications to secure their place.

Even though we face the worst economic headwinds in many people’s lifetime, it is a good time for businesses to think about their future workforce and for workers to consider what they really want to do.

The Road Transport Forum (RTF) did a workforce survey with our road freight operators that actually coincided with New Zealand’s Covid-19 full lockdown. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of respondents identified Covid-19 and/or the economic downturn as the biggest threat to their business.

But the survey also showed 37 percent of industry operators reported a shortage of drivers. Against a backdrop of about 25 percent of drivers over 60, it is estimated that within five years about 20 percent of our current driving workforce will need to be replaced.

Through good times and bad, there are always trucks on the road. People wouldn’t have survived Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions without goods moving through the supply chain on trucks and being delivered direct to their door.

Truck drivers are often the unsung heroes of disasters. They just keep delivering – food, medical supplies to save lives, and other goods that keep many businesses going.

We believe now is the time for trucking operators to start thinking about their workforce in the next five years. It is also time for those workers who have always liked the idea of driving a big piece of finely tuned machinery and experiencing the freedom of the road versus the restrictions of an office or working from home, to give truck driving a go. It is an industry that welcomes diversity so no one should feel excluded.

The RTF is launching Te ara ki tua Road to Success, a truck driving traineeship founded on support and qualifications that takes a new approach to training and employment in the industry. We are working with government agencies including the Ministry of Social Development, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Tertiary Education Commission and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), as well as the industry training organisation MITO, and iwi and labour supply groups.

Te ara ki tua Road to Success, will mesh on-the-job practical training with theoretical components leading to a range of stackable qualifications and employment in the industry. We aim to provide operators with the support to take on new, inexperienced staff to train, and trainees with a guarantee they will have paid work while they train to gain formal qualifications.

The traineeship will cater to three streams of employee – new entrants, career changers, and existing personnel – with each part of the programme specifically designed to meet the needs of the employer and employee.

Qualifications are important to provide those already in the industry with a sustainable career pathway, as well as making the industry attractive to those who are starting out in the workforce, or want a change in career.

Microcredentials, which are NZQA endorsed, are being developed to provide a bridge to the existing industry qualifications. This is to ensure there are no barriers to those who might want to enter the industry.

More than half the respondents to our survey indicated they would be interested in taking on a trainee. With that in mind, in October, Road to Success representative Graham Sheldrake and RTF’s Mark Ngatuere are taking to the road to present and get feedback from road freight transport operators on the design of the programme. I encourage employers to come along to the session near you and give your feedback, and maybe even sign up for a trainee.

The roadshow team are going from Invercargill to Whangarei – check the schedule and how to sign up for a session here. I look forward to seeing you and hearing your thoughts.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

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

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