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The transport industry is short of drivers to the extent that anywhere from 5-15% of the nation-wide commercial fleet is not operating because of the lack of drivers.
Keith McGuire, Northern Area Executive for Road Transport Association of New Zealand, says that as today’s drivers age, younger recruits are not stepping up to replace them. “One of the barriers is that more students are leaving school without a class 1 driver’s licence so they can’t get to the first step in the process. Having a driver’s licence increases the chance of employment by 80% and we’d like to see licencing brought back into schools. Other factors are that owner-operators want drivers with experience, plus it’s time for a new perception of what a career in commercial transport can offer.”
And this is starting to happen. Keith – “The industry now offers opportunities to support youth as well people wanting to retrain or upskill, all of which are initiatives that the Sector Workforce Engagement Programme (SWEP) has identified. We’re also starting to see more flexibility in driver schedules to better suit how we live our lives now.”
“It’s time too to look outside the box of who the traditional truck driver is. Drivers can be behind the wheel of anything from courier vans right through to articulated rigs. More women are coming into the industry and are often better drivers as they are easier on gear and are more careful, resulting is less maintenance cost for truck owners. And some companies are starting to offer internships to promising young people including supporting them in their training.”
There are also collaborative initiatives between the transport industry and tertiary education providers. Keith – “Skilled drivers, operators and managers are in heavy demand and there are now nationally recognized qualifications. Four major polytechs joined forces in late 2017 to create a 20 week New Zealand Certificate in Commercial Road Transport (Heavy Vehicle Operator) (Level 3).”
NorthTec is one of those polytechs and Matt Hartwell is one of the Road Transport tutors. “This new training is more comprehensive than previous courses we’ve run. As well as the heavy vehicle driving and road knowledge component, the course covers customer relations, health and safety, risk reduction, loading, and protocol if a load is damaged - so there are no surprises when graduates get into the industry.”
While there is a strong theory component, 60% of the training is practical with the chance to do extensive work experience locally. Each student does 10 hours in a Class 2 vehicle, then 10 hours in a class 4 vehicle.
In Northland, this is made possible by another industry collaboration. Fonterra has provided a tanker for NorthTec driver training and TR Group has leased them a curtain-slider. Matt – “The companies support the training initiatives and NorthTec gets the use of fully serviced industry vehicles.”
Matt says that 80% per cent of the students successfully complete the course and 68% walk straight into jobs. “All of our driver trainers are qualified driving instructors, ITO-accredited assessors and NZTA-approved providers with extensive industry experience. When we are confident the student has full and safe control of the vehicle, they sit a written examination with a practical component, and only then do they get their licence and a New Zealand Certificate in Commercial Road Transport.”
NorthTec is currently running courses in Kaitaia and Kaikohe and offer their next round of courses in Whangarei, Dargaville, Kaikohe and Kaitaia starting in July.