SPECIAL REPORT - Clarity, quality and self-worth!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Steve Divers addresses attendees at last year's RTF conference

The transport industry is crying out for skilled drivers and Steve Divers is leading the initiative to encourage more people to enter the industry.

Divers said last year was very much a scoping exercise while the trucking industry and the Government’s Sector Workforce Engagement Programme (SWEP) looked at how big the problem was.

“We also looked at whether the source information we were working to was correct, what some of the barriers were for us to be able to recruit, and if there were entry points we could leverage.”

There were currently five tertiary institutes (Northtec, Bay of Plenty – Toi Ohomai, Eastern Institute in Gisborne, Whitireia in Wellington, and SIT in Invercargill) that offered a level three Certificate in Commercial Road Transport. Due to limited resources they’re unable to produce trained drivers.

There were currently five tertiary institutes (Northtec, Bay of Plenty – Toi Ohomai, Eastern Institute in Gisborne, Whitireia in Wellington, and SIT in Invercargill) that offered a level three Certificate in Commercial Road Transport. Due to limited resources they’re unable to produce trained drivers.

The four North Island institutes have split the courses into five key modules, bringing in a requirement for work experience. Divers said the new programmes would be a hybrid, with a unit standard portion for licensing but with work experience being run in one or two modules, with a requirement that the student would need to be in a work placement in order to pass the course.

“This places a high emphasis on the industry stepping up and saying that they will take people on or offer training opportunities in their business for those wishing to learn those skills.”

Another area they were trying to grow was getting more tertiary institutions offering training.

“The Manakau Institute of Technology hopefully will be coming on board this year. We’re trying to get at least one place in Auckland to be able to provide the level 3 certificate and the necessary training. We’ll be approaching operators to see if they’re willing to allow the students to drive their vehicles and gain experience onsite.”

Divers said it was early days, but they were also looking at working with Ara Institute in Timaru, and possibly Christchurch.

“That is being spearheaded by Aoraki Developments, which is the economic development agency. We’ve also been working with Activate Tairawhiti in Gisborne, because they’re looking at helping increase their pool of drivers, utilising local providers and the Eastern Institute of Technology.”

Divers said Steve Phelps at Eastern Institute of Technology was starting a course that came into being with input from Activate Tairawhiti, a regional economic group that has a specific road transport working group.

“They are doing something very different there because they wanted to put their own log truck and trailer on. There is a Super Skid about 15 to 20kms outside of Gisborne that runs pretty much 24/7. They are trying to secure funding to put their own truck on, and operate on a cost-neutral basis by being able to charge out those loads, and reinvest that money into keeping the truck on the road.”

Divers said that works well because they have got a high density of logging vehicles in the region, but other companies doing line haul and fresh produce carting would also benefit from the course.

“They would be able to access people who have a number of hours driving truck and trailer units, which is really important. “They would be able to access people who have a number of hours driving truck and trailer units, which is really important.

Divers said a cadetship programme was the next phase in trying to recruit more truck drivers.

“We’ve got one that’s kicked off in Dunedin, just as a bit of a trial and error, to see what works and what doesn’t. We teamed up Dunedin Carrying Company, a logging company that runs a class 5 fleet only, with Fulton Hogan. They employed a guy who had just got his class 4, but didn’t have any experience. He worked two days a week for them and three days with Fulton Hogan, and he drove one of their 2-axle tippers. The beauty about that was he could be utilised and he worked in a transport operation and gained valuable experience. He’s now done his class 5 and is driving a log truck and trailer unit for Dunedin Carrying Company.”

One of the key areas Divers wanted to address was the fact only a third of those under the age of 25 were likely to have a full car licence.

“It’s really to try and educate operators and say, ‘you’re going to have to lower your sights from class 5, 4, even a class 2, to bringing somebody on who is unskilled, who might still be on a restricted car licence, and finding opportunities for those young people to experience your culture in the company. Employ them in an unskilled role, where you can, and really try and develop them in a cadetship.”

Information gleaned over the past year will be put into a business plan that will be presented to the board.

“That’s really about how do we get the outcome and what do those outcomes look like. It’s not just about getting drivers in, it’s about promoting the industry and about helping operators become great operators, and what they need to do to be able to support training. We’ve been looking at developing a charter that industry can sign up to, running regional cadetships, and coordinating that activity to start feeding the pipeline of young people into our companies.”

Divers said there had been an unrealistic expectation that within one year X-many drivers would be plugging gaps.

“We found it’s not just a case of grabbing young people and getting them a licence. We’ve got to find those people first of all because we’re competing against other industries. We’ve got to identify where those training opportunities are to get them licensed and gain experience, so all that hard work’s had to take place before we could start recruiting directly.

“I think the transport industry is one of those industries where we all expect somebody else will fix the problem and we’re fighting that mind-set. The industry will need to adopt these cadet programmes in order to bring people through, and that we have some level of consistency with the expectations of what people actually need to learn while they are in a cadetship.”

MITO was also reviewing its suite of qualifications, with one change being to bring the loader/yard person qualification up from a level 2 to level 3.

“The reason being is that we want to use that qualification to target the schools. We have nothing at the moment, and we need to be able to deliver something in either a Gateway, a Trades Academy or a Three-plus-Two programme that’s in years 12 and 13. To be able to do the year 13 programmes they need to be level 3 NCEA equivalent, so we’ve had to go with that level 3 programme. And that isn’t so much about driving, it’s about transport-related skills that can be taught to years 12 and 13 so they can get their NCEA credits and then partway through we can line them up with an operator to get them into their business to start experiencing working in the industry.

“And that obviously kicked off the start point for the other qualification, which is the Certificate of Commercial Road Transport. The reason why we’re going down the qualifications pathway quite rigorously is that at the moment our industry, for driving in particular, is what they call ANZCO level 3, and that is an unskilled occupation. The only way we can become a skilled occupation is with some qualification pathway, otherwise we’ll never be taken seriously.”

Divers said if they could get people onto a course and give them a qualification at the end of it, they would have something to go back to the government with.

“We can say, ‘actually, we are a skilled occupation and these are our benchmark qualifications that underpin that’. Otherwise, we’re looking at short-term fixes and some degree of immigration at some point. It’s not the be-all and end-all and it’s not the long-term fix, but certainly in the short term, we may well need to leverage immigration, but we can’t do that unless we’re an occupation that’s recognised as skilled.”

The International Labour Organisation categorises job skill levels and Divers said worldwide truck and bus driving was classified as an unskilled occupation.

“It’s difficult to fight the case we are a skilled occupation when we don’t have any recognised qualifications. Believe it or not, the number one qualification for truck drivers, if you had to pin it on one qualification, is that about 1.5% of all our drivers also hold their trade certificates in automotive. That’s the irony of it all, that we have a number of people who are trained to be mechanics who now drive trucks.”

Divers recently went along to address the Limited Service Volunteers at Burnham Military Camp.

“It’s a great programme, and I went along with Peter Stewart from Fonterra Darfield, and he talked about his career pathway. We need to say to people, particularly those who might want to come into our industry, that there’s not one single way you can come into it. We all come into it a slightly different way. We have some who go to college and get qualifications and end up truck drivers, but the vast majority do the licensing off their own bat, at their own cost. And that’s the fault of the system that we created. The fact is we need a lot more sponsorship to get people into the industry.”

Divers said when they asked students at two Wellington colleges what they wanted to do when they left school, most of them said they weren’t sure.

“But the feedback was they all wanted a job, they all wanted to earn money, and they wanted a job that was secure, which was interesting. We said, ‘what about training? Would you pay for training yourself?’ They said if the boss provided it for free, they’d accept it, but they were unlikely to pay for it themselves.”

A scenario was proposed where two people were hired and one was given free training and the other one wasn’t.

“We asked what they would do about that, would they challenge the boss, and they said no. The feedback was they didn’t want any conflict; they would probably just leave. That tells us a lot about our industry, that we’ve got to approach them as opposed to them approaching us, because they are unlikely to ask.”

Divers said unless students had gone through sports or had motivated parents, generally they won’t have a work ethic.

“You learn that from your employers and people you work with, it rubs off on you. That’s one of the benefits of the Limited Service Volunteer courses at the military camp – it’s full immersion into the military way of life. When we went and talked to the latest intake, they all sat up and they all had respect for the teacher, they had respect for themselves, and every single one of them wanted to be employed by the day they left the military camp, and that’s really key. So employers might have to bite the bullet and get them in early, and don’t use the excuse that because of health and safety you can’t get them in.”

Divers pointed out that legally a 12-year-old could drive a tractor engaged in agricultural operations on a farm, as long as they had been inducted onto that piece of equipment.

“So if we can get a 12-year-old in a tractor on a farm, we sure as hell can get a 15-year-old in a passenger seat of a log truck. We seem to be too scared to approach it, and unless we do, we will miss out to other industries.”

If a programme could be developed and presented to schools, Divers said it could help capture the 70% of students who don’t go off to university.

“If we can make it a free resource, we’re going to be one step ahead of everyone else. If we can get those resources into the schools, say, ‘here you go, for all those who aren’t going to go off to university, for those who aren’t quite sure what they’re going to do yet, do these credits’. If they’re not going to be on an academic pathway, get them on to this, and then we can get them into our businesses for one or two days a week. They might be a thorn in your side at school; they could be an absolute asset in our business.”

All the level 3 Certificate in Commercial Road Transport courses at the five tertiary institutes are eligible for Fees Free.

“This is a first, and we can leverage that. Because that’s always been a big problem, who pays for training, and most operators will turn around and say, ‘I won’t train because they might leave and go somewhere else’. If we take that argument away, then the opportunity is always, ‘yes, somebody might leave, is that a sign of your culture or do they genuinely want to see if the grass is greener?’ And the other thing is, if the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence, they may well come back to you so long as you leave the door open. And then you have a choice of whether you reemploy them or not.”

Divers said they were looking to develop a charter and get the industry to commit to it.

“Some of the things we’ll be looking at include what is a good employer, what do we need in a cadetship, which are those good companies we want to work with and support, what are they prepared to do, and then, if you want to be part of this programme, then you’ve got to commit to being a good employer and committing to a charter as an association member. This is about selling the benefits of membership. It doesn’t matter which one you belong to, as long as you’re a member of one, and the benefit is we will support you with your cadetship and training, and if anything, we will try and feed young people to you.”

Divers cited Tranzliquid as a good example of a company doing something about the driver shortage.

“If you looked at the median age of their drivers, it wouldn’t be in the high 50s and 60s, it would actually be in the 30s and 40s. Because they saw this coming a long time ago, and addressed this issue themselves for their economic and business benefit, which is fantastic. They’re also very supportive and are members of various groups that we’re involved with in and around Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty, namely the Freight Logistics Action Group. They are great inputters into these organisations.”

Older drivers and those who have retired were an untapped resource, said Divers.

“When we look at the stereotypical truck driver, in his mid-
fifties, slightly portly, slightly grey, we’re trying our very best

to dispel that. Yeah, those guys are there, they’re the really experienced ones that you will be working with, your mentors. They are fathers and grandfathers and mothers and grandmothers, and there is this huge ability to train in-house. How do we incentivise that? If you have got somebody who’s looking to retire in the next year, why don’t you then utilise them one or two days a week, training new

Divers admitted there was still a lot of work to do and there won’t be a quick solution to the driver shortage problem. people coming in.”

“We do have a utopia that we want to see, and this is still a year or two years down the line. A lot of things we haven’t done enough of for many years, so it takes twice the amount of effort to get things back up and running again with those key people who can continue it. We can’t afford to lose any more programmes, and we all know that recruitment is of paramount importance in our industry.”

Immigration New Zealand was approached regarding the absence of truck driving from the skills shortage lists.

INZ area manager Marcelle Foley said the Essential Skills in Demand Lists were designed to ensure New Zealand’s skill needs were met by facilitating the entry of appropriately skilled migrants to fill skill shortages.

“The lists are reviewed and updated on a regular basis. The removal and addition of occupations for the skill shortage lists is the result of extensive consultation with industry groups, other stakeholders and relevant government agencies alongside analysis of economic, labour market and immigration data. Changes to the lists demonstrate that the Ministry’s policy is flexible and responsive to the changing face of the country’s labour market.

“The trucking industry (through the Road Freight Transport Group) and the Government’s Sector Workforce Engagement Programme (SWEP) have been working in partnership for the past few years to support the industry to access reliable, appropriately skilled staff from the pool of New Zealand job- seekers before jobs are offered to migrants.”

Foley said this work included the development of a strategy to get 1000 more drivers into the industry by addressing some of the challenges the industry faced.

“It should be stressed that removal of occupations from the lists does not mean employers cannot recruit migrants, but they must first show they have genuinely searched for suitably qualified and trained New Zealand workers.”