Delivering success – NorthTec Driver Training

6 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineAugust 16, 2018

Last October New Zealand Trucking attended the presentation by Fonterra of a lease truck and tanker unit to NorthTec for driver training. We recently visited NorthTec‘s Kaikohe campus to see how the training is going.

Simon Phelps is an amiable bloke. He is pathway manager for manufacturing and technology at NorthTec, Northland‘s largest technical institute. You get a real sense of enthusiasm for the job from this former motor mechanic – he‘s been working at technical institutes in one capacity or other since 2004.

With him today is Matt Hartwell, NorthTec‘s road transport tutor in Kaikohe. He shares Simon‘s enthusiasm for the job and willingness to talk. Matt ‘s been a driving tutor for nine years, first for the Salvation Army, and, for the past year, NorthTec. He is also a former cabinet maker. We meet at the Kaikohe campus. The campus is in a rather nondescript building set well back from the street and largely hidden by paint shops and automotive workshops. There is a driver training course going on inside, and outside in the sun is the lease truck Fonterra supplied to NorthTec last year. The trailer unit, also supplied by Fonterra, is back at the Whangarei campus; it is not needed in Kaikohe today. The truck, a Volvo FM12, is one of two NorthTec uses for driver training; the other is a Class 2 Curtainsider. It is the Volvo trainees will be using today.

The Northtec Driver Training Course is spread over 20 weeks, and three or four days a week depending on requirements. Fifty percent of each course is classroom theory; 60 percent is spent behind the wheel. The course is supported by several transport industry bodies, among them the Road Transport Association, whose northern area executive, Keith McGuire, says is “right behind the course, sees its benefits to the industry, and is eager to support it”. “Ideally, we would like to have two courses a year at each of our campuses,” says Simon. But, it hasn‘t quite panned out that way – at least not yet. “ We are currently running two courses each at Kaikohe and Kaitaia [campuses], and we are also advertising a second semester intake in Whangarei, Kaitaia, Kaikohe and Dargaville, starting in July. We didn‘t initially get the numbers we hoped for in Whangarei in semester one,” Simon says.

Photo: Tutor Adaam Ross in full swing on campus. The Far North is making the most of the opportunities this programme provides.

Simon hasn‘t quite put his finger on why Whangarei has been behind the eight ball in coming forward, but says it is “crazy that our biggest centre in Northland doesn‘t have a course”.

Matt agrees, pointing out the success rate NorthTec training has for students: “Eighty percent successfully complete a course. And 68 percent walk into jobs after leaving NorthTec.” The maximum desirable number of trainees per course is 15. In the most recently completed course at Kaikohe 14 successfully completed the course, and there are 14 on the current course.

Simon and Matt are pleased with those results, but both agree it is still a question of quality over quantity. Matt takes up the point:

“I won‘t sign-off someone unless they prove to me that they have full control of the vehicle and they are safe behind the wheel. They sit a written examination and there is a practical element of that. Then and only then do they get their licence and a New Zealand Certificate in Commercial Road Transport. “It‘s all about putting in the time and effort. Nine times out of 10 they succeed, and we do everything we can to help them. There is a lot of one-on-one interaction.”

Since it was delivered last October, the Fonterra Volvo has clocked up an average of 10,000 kilometres for each 20-week course. Fonterra provides the vehicle service.

Each student spends a total of 10 hours in the Volvo cab, and another 10 hours behind the wheel of the curtainsider. Practical training involves vehicle inspections, hooking up trailers, and driving on metal roads. Matt says driver safety is paramount, and each trainee on the road is always accompanied by a tutor. NorthTec employs three full-time equivalent tutors. The skills the trainees learn are portable and flexible. “ When we teach [trainees] to drive a truck it is how to drive a truck. It doesn‘t matter what kind of truck. We are teaching them skills they can take anywhere,” Matt says.

Applications for future NorthTec driver training courses are now open. Courses are scheduled to start in Whangarei, Kaikohe, Kaitaia and Dargaville on 23 July, subject to student demand. Visit the NorthTec website https://www.northtec. for details or call NorthTec on 0800 162 100.