Treat and pay drivers well to ensure a bright future for transport industry

In News6 MinutesBy Nick LeggettJuly 29, 2022

Most trucking companies have raised wages for their drivers over the last year, our recent survey has found. That’s a wise move if the road transport industry is to have a bright future in New Zealand. Better pay and a focus on good culture and conditions are already literally paying dividends for many operators.

The harsh truth is that if companies fail to act, they will only have themselves to blame and they will get left behind.

The findings on wage rates are the last tranche of information from our recent industry survey of almost 400 transport operators across New Zealand that we are sharing with members and the public.

At a time of economic stress and high inflation, eight out of 10 trucking companies reported that they had increased pay for their drivers over the last year. Slightly more than half (55%) said they had increased staff wages by at least 6%, some considerably more.

In a previous survey by Transporting New Zealand in March 2020, 44% of transport operators said they paid their staff between $21 to $25 per hour. Now barely 6% are in that range.

The median hourly wage has moved from around $26 per hour in 2020 to over $31 per hour today. The number of drivers being paid between $33 and $40 per hour has more than trebled in under two years to 18%.

We think it is important to share these results with you – after all, you took the time and filled the surveys in. It’s also important to share these results more publicly because truck driving has traditionally been seen as a low paid, low skilled occupation. Clearly, this outdated perception can no longer be justified. Further, if we want to attract more people to the industry, we need to paint the real picture of what pay and conditions are like for truck drivers. Especially now when New Zealanders understand the importance of our trucking industry to New Zealand since Covid lockdowns.

Transporting New Zealand has a saying that we are here to tell the road transport industry what it needs to know to be successful, not just what it wants to hear. We aim to be your trusted advisors, which includes both advocacy and advice. Sometimes that advice will mean we have to have uncomfortable conversations and tell some home truths.

While we know that there are real concerns about driver shortage, we wonder if two decades of complaints and concerns are more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than actual reality. We believe the labour supply situation for truck drivers is currently more settled than any time in the recent past. Better pay and conditions are making a positive difference.

It’s interesting that the operators who often continue to complain about driver shortages are the same ones who have never employed a woman driver, and say they don’t employ particular ethnic groups. Greater diversity, and having the kind of workplace where a driver can feel they belong, irrespective of their gender, race or sexuality, will carry an employer a very long way.

My view is that most of the problems we face in life can be solved as close to source as possible. The same goes for driver shortages. Many operators have solved that problem for themselves – or significantly reduced it. Others have not. It’s telling to me that we currently have a dozen potential trainees from Road to Success waiting to be placed with operators. Three months ago, we found 600 drivers across the country who were prepared to work as part-time or relief drivers. How many operators picked up the phone to those people? Precious few, I can tell you. If there was a desperation for drivers, those drivers would have seen their phones running red hot.

The solution to the industry’s problems with driver supply won’t be met by getting 16-year-olds into your yards after school. It’s about selling trucking to a generation of people already in the workforce and enticing them with a career path, qualifications, training, and liveable wages so they want to work for you and stay working for you. Thinking weeks or months into the future and anticipating your need for future drivers, so you aren’t caught short, is also vital.

Our industry has to grow safe, qualified, and experienced Class 5 drivers. It’s not about expecting others to do it for us. Transporting New Zealand is here to assist with that challenge and our traineeship is made to fit in with your existing training and recruiting.

Take a look at two excellent operators who are making training work for them.

By Nick Leggett, chief executive of Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand.