Truck driver hero celebrated

It’s fair to say that 2020 has not been a great year for many people, with Covid-19 bringing fear, anxiety and lockdowns around the world.

So, it’s good to know there are some local heroes out there focused on good works and keeping us safe.

And after this annus horribilis, it was good to have something to celebrate last week when I presented the award for the Castrol Truck Driver Hero to Deane Rodgers at an event in Cromwell in the South Island (pictured above).

Each year, this award goes to a truck driver who has gone above and beyond during the course of their normal work day to help people and keep them safe, often at their own risk.

Summerland Express Freight driver Deane Rodgers is a deserving recipient of the award and it was great to spend the evening with him, his partner Karen, and the Summerland team who came to the event to support him.

Deane’s quick thinking prevented a potentially large fire, but put him at great risk at the same time.

Travelling through South Canterbury earlier this year, with a load of infant formula destined for Christchurch, Deane looked in his mirrors and saw his trailer on fire.

He looked around him at the tinder-dry fields of wheat crops and grass, noted the strong wind blowing, and thought it was too dangerous to pull over to the side of the road and risk a bigger fire.

He knew the Makikihi Country Hotel was about five kilometres ahead and it had space to park a flaming truck so he took the calculated risk and bravely drove there; risking his own life. He rung the fire brigade to meet him, ignored all the other road users trying to warn him, and made it to safety for all. Farmers in the area have thanked him for preventing what could have been a catastrophic fire.

Deane put others before himself and used his 33 years of experience driving trucks to pull off an incredibly risky manoeuvre. As a professional driver, he knew what was possible. It was a great pleasure to thank Deane in person for what he did.

We’re a bit biased at the Road Transport Forum in that we see the good work truck drivers do every day in keeping the supply chain well-oiled so New Zealanders get all the food and goods they need. We know they help out on the road wherever they can. And we’ve done some research that shows many New Zealanders agree with us that truck drivers are skilled, safety conscious, professional and considerate.

That’s good for us to hear, because there is strong anti-truck sentiment from the current Government that doesn’t seem to be evidence-based. We hope the next Government sees the value truck drivers bring to the all-important supply chain.

– Nick Leggett, CE, Road Transport Forum

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