Broadening the drive for skills development

6 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineNovember 29, 2019

Solomon Group, the Maori Private Training Establishment (PTE), is paving the path for more Maori and Pacific Islanders to become truck drivers. The PTE has created a free, part-time course for members of those communities to launch their careers in truck driving, in turn helping to combat the transport industry‘s skills shortage.

More than 90 people have completed the course now, the second of which has just ended. 

In creating the 14-week course of two night classes per week, the group has gone further than simply prepping the participants for their driver‘s licences. The students, who typically have English as a second language, are also introduced to the practical side of being a truck driver in New Zealand, and given language and comprehension help and emotional and mental preparation. 

“We did a pilot course last year, in English, to test the market. One thing we found to be a challenge was the level of literacy required to pass the tests in English. Many in the group were also not computer literate and had issues around comprehension and understanding,” explains Ruanna Tagaloasa-Letalu, director community partnerships, Solomon Group.

“After much research we developed this programme to help bridge the gap by giving students the literacy support they need to achieve their goals – specifically to gain their class 2 learners licence, the first step on the journey to becoming a truck driver. The class 2 learners test is very theory-based so it is a huge obstacle for many people.”

This year Solomon Group developed a programme in Samoan as well. Of the 35 students who completed the course, 20 of them took the Samoan class. In 2020 the Auckland classes will also be offered in Tongan, and the course will extend into Tauranga with classes in Samoan and Kiribati. 

Tagaloasa-Letalu is upbeat about the course‘s prospects, citing the dedication of the participants and growing interest from the industry. 

“We‘re talking about people who work eight to 10 hours of manual work a day and then show up with a 90-percent attendance rate. The candidates see that we‘re enabling them to further themselves and they‘re willing to do the hard yards.” 

Classes take place in a Wiri warehouse which allows space for the practical side of the training. With the likes of National Road Carriers, Waste Management Transport, VTNZ and C.V. Compton Ltd on board, learners are able to interact with everything from axles and engines to electric trucks, which Tagaloasa-Letalu says really keeps them interested. The courses are taught by two truck drivers, and an educator who works alongside them. 

“They key is to bring the programme to life, to make it visual. The delivery is the magic,” Tagaloasa-Letalu says.

She encourages more companies to get involved. “There are lots of companies looking for drivers; class 4 and 5 is where the real need is, but to get there drivers first need their class 2 learners, they need the practical and we‘ve made it easier for the employers to get them there.”

The success stories so far are inspiring. “These are people who have been working 20 or 25 years in an entry level role and have never imagined they could do anything more than what they are doing. We had one student who had picked up rubbish for 10 years. All he dreamed of was driving a truck, but he thought that was out of reach for him because of his low level of English. When he heard we were doing a trucking course in Samoan he thought it was too good to be true. Now he‘s graduated and his whole life will change for the better,” Tagaloasa-Letalu says.

“Four students who came through Waste Management as labourers will now be sitting with a supervisor in the truck one day a week to get their full class 2 licences. Another has been with them for seven years in the maintenance division and is realising his dream of getting behind the wheel.”

Tagaloasa-Letalu says that the programme has proved that people will see the value in a programme that has been developed to be right for where they are at. “Anyone who can work in a hard, physical job all day and still study at night is passionate and committed, and I feel so privileged that I can help them achieve their goals.”

More details about Solomon Group‘s free 14-week Employment Literacy Truck Driving Night Classes can be found at