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)

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