Alarmist talk on driver shortage was inaccurate and unhelpful

In News6 MinutesBy Nick LeggettOctober 21, 2022

Recent reports in the media that the transport industry faces a shortfall of as many as 9000 drivers don’t appear to be based on any factual evidence, and only serve to undermine the industry.

In a letter to Transport and Immigration Minister Michael Wood, as reported by the New Zealand Herald,National Road Carriers, the Waste Management Industry Forum, and the Bus and Coach Association, have said New Zealand faces a shortfall of over 9000 drivers, including at least 8000 drivers for freight vehicles. The letter warns of dire consequences for the country unless immigration massively increases to let more drivers come in.

While it is disappointing to have to contradict another industry group, they were way off beam. The facts paint a different picture.

At Transporting New Zealand’s recent conference in Invercargill, Jonathan Caseley, executive director of Christchurch-based PERFORM-X Aotearoa, explained how his company is developing a tool to provide accurate and up-to-date information about skills and employment in our industry. The tool, which uses government data and a scientific approach, shows there is a shortage of about 2400 drivers across the country.

While that figure might change, we have got to establish this benchmark and we have got to use reputable data.

Unfortunately, what we saw last week was an ill-judged and damaging release from parts of the industry about driver shortage. It didn’t tell us what their source for the data was.

It was very damaging to our industry to have the Minister of Transport, Michael Wood – with whom we have a good relationship, despite disagreements on some major issues – come out and say the reason people don’t want to work for our industry is because of crappy wages and terrible conditions. That is not true, but when you attack him with false information and he is backed into a corner, that is the kind of negative response you must expect.

In fact, Michael Wood told our recent conference in Invercargill, that the transport industry had increased wages at a higher rate than many other industries. We knew that, because we had surveyed operators in a major survey recently, and we had told that story already to the minister and to the public.

While overseas drivers have always been part of the labour supply solution – and I think that diversity is part of what makes New Zealand a great country – the idea that we are going to solve our driver shortage by massive immigration is wrong-headed.

The general consensus, which I support, is that to solve our problems, we’ve got to employ, train, attract, and invest in New Zealanders to work in the transporting industry as drivers and in other roles.

This is where Transporting New Zealand is making a positive difference.

Our programme Te ara ki tua Road to success, helps transport operators bring people into their business. Over 50 people are now enrolled in the programme and we have an ambitious target to enrol 1000 trainees by the end of 2023.

That is the way you solve a driver crisis. The solution and the tools are here now – we’ve just got to pick them up and make them work.

To make the industry exciting for young people, we’ve got to “sell the sizzle.” Transporting New Zealand is promoting the industry as an exciting and interesting place to build a career. Whether you’re working in logistics, driving a truck, working in a warehouse, in an administrative or support role, or in dispatching or management, technology will keep making the industry more efficient. The road to decarbonisation will also bring some exciting changes. We are seeing that already with some smaller trucks, including EVs, and HWR bringing in hybrid diesel-hydrogen trucks.

Instead of people just saying things off the top of their head, we need a more considered approach. This is why the industry needs one voice. If we want to solve problems, we have to use evidence and look at trends to work out the best way to make a difference. Government is not the solution to many of our problems, but they do play a part and we have to work with them. We’ve been pleased with the support we’ve had from the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development and their respective Ministers on Road to success. It’s imperative we keep that co-operation going for the long haul.

By Nick Leggett, CEO at Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand