Time to show truck drivers some appreciation

This week we have seen once again, the contribution truck drivers make to New Zealand.

Through natural disasters, pandemics, Covid-19 level changes and lockdowns, and all weathers, truck drivers keep delivering the essentials New Zealanders need to live on a daily basis.

As with the Level 3 lockdown of Auckland in August last year, this week’s move to Level 3 in Auckland again presented many challenges for trucking operators and their drivers with lengthy delays at some road blocks. The photo above shows the south bound traffic, between Pokeno and Mercer on Monday evening.

So it seems particularly timely that next week is National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, from 22 to 28 February. The theme is: truck drivers deliver.

As we are close to entering year two of Covid-19 restrictions, including the New Zealand border remaining closed indefinitely, it is fair to say, on-time delivery is a moving feast. The supply chain is stretched so tight we all have our fingers crossed it won’t break completely.

While road blocks on Auckland’s borders present an inconvenience for people in cars, for truck drivers the impacts are significant. If they are stuck in traffic for two to three hours, as has happened this week, that can be detrimental, or even dangerous, to their cargo, for example, live animals or perishable goods. Animal welfare is a major concern and goods that spoil unnecessarily cost everyone. These delays can also push the driver over the legal hours they are allowed to work, which has safety implications. But they can’t just walk out of the line of traffic and abandon their load.

Police have told us trucking operators should be prepared to adjust on time delivery this week. With all due respect, even our industry’s master logistics planners are challenged when large numbers of Aucklanders ignore the parameters of the alert level and try and get in our out of the area when they are patently, not allowed. On Monday it was reported that the Police estimated 25 percent of those who queued at the Mercer border road block were “unnecessary travellers”. That one-in-four caused mayhem for the others around them.

After the lengthy delays at road blocks in Auckland’s Level 3 last year, the Road Transport Forum asked government officials if things could be learned from that, so that improvements could be made for the inevitable next lockdown.

Sadly, we didn’t see any evidence of that this week. There were times when it actually seemed worse. But truck drivers did what they always do, and just got on with the job as best they could. That is not to say there have not been costs associated with this lockdown and negative impacts on businesses, but that’s another story.

It is important that truck drivers get the credit they deserve and there are a number of events being organised around New Zealand next week to do that. We would like to thank NZ Truck & Drivermagazine for organising and promoting the week and you can find out more about it here.

If you are out and about next week, alert levels permitting, give a truck driver a wave of appreciation.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Truck drivers keeping your Christmas merry

As you plan for a well-deserved merry Christmas with lots of food, drink and gifts, spare a thought for the truck drivers who are under pressure to get you all those goods so you can enjoy your holidays.

Truck drivers have had a particularly challenging year. Like everyone, worldwide, Covid-19 has thrown them many curved balls. But truck drivers can be relied on in disasters, pandemics, floods, and all manner of bad weather, to get through and get the goods people need for their everyday life. Pretty much everything comes on the back of a truck at some stage; 93 percent of New Zealand’s freight in fact.

The lead up to Christmas and the summer holiday season add stress – not only are there more deliveries to make, there are people on the road who really shouldn’t be. Stressed, distracted, drunk, and/or drug impaired drivers seem to come out in droves at this time of year. The road is a truck driver’s work place and they share it with the general public who may not have the driving skills or desire to make that road a safe place.

The Road Transport Forum didn’t have a conference this year, or the opportunity to present the awards we normally do to those in the road freight transport industry who have excelled in some way. We hope to give awards at our 2021 conference in September – if Covid-19 allows.

We are right behind other initiatives to recognise the role truck drivers play not only in our economy, but also in keeping other people on the roads safe and sometimes, being heroes. We see and hear of many instances where drivers have gone out of their way to help someone else, or save lives. They are often first on the scene of an accident, which can be harrowing.

As it is for workers in many other industries, there is uneducated and unfair shade thrown at truck drivers. But without them, where would you be?

The Road Transport Forum is backing an initiative early next year – New Zealand Truck Driver Appreciation Week (22-28 February). This will be an opportunity to share stories about the good work truck drivers do and what it is like for them on the road. Remember during the New Zealand Government’s Covid-19 lockdown, while many citizens were enjoying life at home, truck drivers were out on the road without any public toilets open or places to get food, delivering to supermarkets, medical supplies, and other essential goods.

I was privileged to head to Invercargill earlier this month to attend the New Zealand Road Transport Hall of Fame event, which recognises outstanding contributions to the industry. Dates had been moved, to accommodate Covid-19 restrictions, but the event went ahead eventually and the first woman was inducted – Anita Dynes. A crucial part of the well-known family business, Anita is an iconic industry figure with interests in dairy, forestry and wine, in addition to road transport. The role of women in road freight transport is often overlooked, so even though it took until 2020, at least now that recognition is starting to come.

While the Mayor of Invercargill is experiencing some issues, there is no denying what a fantastic job he has done for his city. It might seem a long way away, but it’s worth the visit and the RTF will be holding our 2021 conference there on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 September – and immediately following next year’s Hall of Fame.

Other Hall of Fame inductees were Graham Sheldrake, who as a tireless industry champion has assisted RTF with the launch of our industry traineeship Road to success; NZ Truck & Driver magazine (among other titles) publisher Trevor Woolston; RTF Board member and logging industry stalwart Warwick Wilshier; tyre industry legend Jim Black; and posthumously, Sir Jack Newman, who was instrumental in growing one of New Zealand’s largest road transport businesses, Newman Bros Ltd.

It’s good to reflect on the history of our industry as we plan for the many challenges ahead with a disrupted supply chain because of the pandemic; increasing scrutiny, rules and regulations; slow and poorly maintained roads; rapid changes in technology; and climate change and all its implications.

For a long time yet, New Zealand will rely on truck drivers to keep the economy moving and the home fires burning.

On a final note, I’d like to acknowledge that this is Mark Ngatuere’s last day at the RTF. He will be sorely missed by myself and our team here in Wellington, and I know by the wider industry. We wish him well in his travels and look forward to hopefully working with him again at some point.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

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