Communicate clearly as the world changes daily

As we wake up each day to more changes to our world, communication is critical for businesses dealing with the global spread of COVID-19.

I know many businesses are facing pressure and business as usual is unlikely for some time. We are in a rapidly changing and unprecedented business environment when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For this reason it is essential that you are communicating with staff, suppliers and customers.

You need to assure all those you are in contact with that you are doing everything possible to prevent community spread of COVID-19.

Keep communication clear, factual and regular – daily if necessary. Be mindful of language as for many people, this is a very serious situation and people are feeling stressed and pressured.

RTF has heard of some primary food processing companies putting in measures to protect the integrity of their production line, including mandating that truck drivers sign a “declaration” each time they enter the premises to say they have not travelled overseas in the past two weeks.

Unfortunately, this is being done company-by-company, rather than in a co-ordinated way. So we are not sure what the basis of this decision-making is. There are currently no market access requirements, or requirements from the New Zealand Government for this type of measure.

But we also understand your customers may start implementing the measures they think are necessary to assure their customers that they are doing everything possible to prevent spread of COVID-19.

Please let the RTF know if there are any such changes to your supply chain, or any specific business issues you are having as a result of COVID-19.

All trucking companies should by now have a plan to manage their businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. It needs to be a flexible plan, as we are seeing daily changes to operations worldwide, particularly when it comes to the supply chain.

RTF has set up a webpage dedicated to providing information to the trucking industry throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. You can access it via our main page www.rtf.co.nz or directly here.

We are issuing regular circulars and fact sheets to advise businesses on the New Zealand response to coronavirus and these are available on the website.

It is important to use the accurate and verified information from the New Zealand Government as it applies to the New Zealand situation with COVID-19, not rely on information in the media or on social media. In particular, the Ministry of Health should be the source of all health related information and advice.

There are some measures specific to our industry that businesses should familiarise themselves with, including driver hygiene on the road and truck cleaning. There are no New Zealand guidelines on truck cleaning in a pandemic, but we have put on our website the very sound influenza pandemic advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This advice includes exposure risks for freight transport personnel; guidance on preparing workplaces for a flu pandemic; personal protective equipment; and truck cleaning.

Road freight transport is critical to maintaining continuity of vital operations in New Zealand at this time. RTF is working with the relevant authorities to ensure the vital links road freight transport provides remain effective.

You, our trucking community, are carrying the economy on the back of your trucks and we are here to ensure you can continue to do so.

– 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

Water policy will hurt us all

A strong New Zealand economy relies on a healthy primary sector. If the farmers and growers who produce our food and related primary products are doing well, that positively impacts the whole economy. That includes those in the road freight business of moving those goods around New Zealand and to ports and airports for export, as well as all the goods down the track made from all those primary products.

Conversely, if farmers are feeling pain, that ripples far beyond the farm gate and will hurt us all – prices go up and jobs get scarce.

This Government’s ideologically driven environmental policies are costing and hurting farmers and growers who are not solely responsible for all New Zealand’s environmental ills. So last week, the Road Transport Forum joined about 17,500 others and submitted on the Action for healthy waterways – A discussion document on national direction for our essential freshwater.

Unlike the Government, we have been listening to farmers and growers, who are the customers of transport operators. And transport operators are concerned that if business dries up in rural and provincial communities, we are all going to be in trouble. This is why business and farmer confidence is so low – no business owner likes uncertainty and New Zealand’s competitors in export markets are clapping their hands as they watch our businesses get priced off the global market with expensive rules that don’t apply anywhere else.

This is not to say we are against changes to improve our environment. And while we are not experts in water, we very generally support the Government’s intent to improve water quality on the grounds of benefits to all New Zealanders.

However, we have an issue with the process this water reform is taking, the rapid timeframe, and the lack of robust economic analysis that has been applied to a policy direction that will have long-standing and detrimental impacts on our whole economy. It is on that basis we have submitted.

We contend that the Government has not considered how its proposals will affect whole communities and we believe that the trade-offs that will be needed will have to be well understood by all New Zealanders before proposed changes in land use practices are implemented.

We believe the Government has taken a very narrow focus and has not applied its own economic measure of the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework, to fully explore the four capitals – natural, social, human, and financial and physical – collectively to this policy.

There’s a lot of environmental science, and a lot of talk of returning New Zealand waterways to a state that existed when there were hardly any people here, but not a lot of consideration of how the way of life for all New Zealanders will change when our food producers take such a massive hit – to the point they are saying they will no longer be able to produce food and they won’t be able to sell their land, losing all their equity.

In the documentation supporting this policy is it concerning to see this objective in the Draft National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management:

The objective of this National Policy Statement is to ensure that resources are managed in a way that prioritises:

first, the health and wellbeing of waterbodies and freshwater ecosystems; and

second, the essential health needs of people; and

third, the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural wellbeing, now and in the future.

This can only be interpreted as suggesting that the essential health needs of people are secondary to the health and wellbeing of waterbodies and freshwater ecosystems, and that the wellbeing of communities is a distant third.

If this is the Government’s view, in order of priority, we suggest it is likely that the economic activity that keeps New Zealand operating will be seriously compromised, with untenable flow-on impacts in terms of employment, productivity, and community health and wellbeing across the rural, provincial and urban communities. This is pure “planet over people” ideology.

Regarding the process, we are not confident all 17,500-odd submissions will be read and considered. There is now no opportunity to have any further input. A small group selected by the Government will summarise the submissions and then it is straight to Cabinet for decision making.

We would like to see more breadth in the process that gives consideration to the social, human and financial impacts beyond the farm gate, region-by-region, with an over-arching analysis of economic impact to New Zealand as a whole.

A report released yesterday (Thursday 7 November) further illustrates our concerns about an ideological approach. Environment Commissioner Simon Upton said in his report, ‘huge’ gaps in data and knowledge leave an unclear picture of the state of our environment and whether it’s getting better or worse. He said this could be costing us in the form of poorly designed policies or irreversible damage.

“Further, the costs are not just environmental – they have real consequences for the economy, society and our wellbeing,” Upton says.

“We can’t make economically efficient or socially fair environmental rules if we can’t measure authoritatively what’s happening to the physical resource base on which our wellbeing ultimately depends.”

You can find our submission here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Strong economy good for wellbeing

It would be a heartless person who didn’t commend the Government for the commitment it showed to New Zealand’s most disadvantaged people in announcing its Wellbeing Budget yesterday.

It would be good to get to the bottom of why this country needs to spend so much on mental health care and why many of our young people don’t seem to have much hope. When you look at the Scandinavian countries that always score so highly on global “happiness” surveys, it seems that at least one factor contributing to a nation’s wellbeing is a strong economy that offers hope of a good, balanced lifestyle. Yesterday’s budget was not one that will transform our economy.

As a trading nation that is moving goods around 24 hours a day, seven days a week, road transport is the lifeblood of our economy. Currently trucks transport around 90 percent of New Zealand’s total freight by weight, with seven percent going by rail and the rest by air and coastal shipping. Your food, clothes, furniture, cars, whiteware and appliances, office products, technology, and pretty much everything else, has travelled via truck at some point to get to you.

So, it is concerning to see so much money being pumped into rail – $1.41 billion allocated to KiwiRail over the next two years in yesterday’s budget – without an equivalent investment in roads. And it was disappointing to hear Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her Budget speech at Parliament yesterday shout, “If you want to talk about safety on our roads, get freight off it and get it on to rail.” Incidentally, we would like to see the evidence behind this call. Also, how will the big investment in rail take freight off trucks specifically? The truth is that there is a lot of money going into rail that will probably not shift the freight task in any measurable direction away from roading.

This push to revive a rail freight network that has essentially failed in the past and as a consequence, has become run-down, at the expense of the already functioning road freight network, doesn’t feel visionary. If ever, it will be a long time before there is any evidence of more freight being moved by rail and fewer heavy trucks on the road. In the meantime, road conditions will worsen without investment and that will impact road safety and the economy. It all feels fine when we have a strong economy, but we require the Government to be investing now in modes that will carry and build our nation when things slow.

With the budget also pouring more money into forestry, it seems extraordinary that the Government hasn’t considered what happens to all those trees when they are harvested. They go off shore, to boost our export earnings, and they get from the forest via logging trucks – heavy vehicles that need good roads.

Anyone who spent budget night in Wellington’s wild weather trying to get home to the suburbs out of the city, by car and public transport – a two-hour journey for many that would normally be 20-40 minutes – will be aware of how lacking in resilience our infrastructure is. They might have spent some of that time grid-locked on both State Highway 1 and 2 contemplating the value of maybe some budget dollars going to securing our economy and productivity with good, resilient infrastructure.

As politicians were in the Beehive clinking their glasses of pinot noir and congratulating themselves on their citizens’ wellbeing, on the dark, wet, windy streets beyond their windows it felt like the economy was slowing even more and its vitality – our extensive roading network that needs to be resilient in a country plagued by natural disasters – was being ignored. The budget didn’t feel very strategic, or like there was big-picture future planning; more like doling out money to the pet projects of coalition partners.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum