Trucking firms forced to go offshore to search for drivers

A recruitment agency is planning to import truck drivers from overseas because local young people aren’t interested in that line of work. 

Simon Reid owns a company in Northland that maintains about nine trucks. Business is pretty good, but he’s got a problem.

Since 2006, the number of truck drivers has shrunk by nearly 13 percent.
Photo: 123RF

“There is quite a problem with attracting drivers to the industry. It’s not going to be something that goes away, simply because the government isn’t interested in helping us. 

“They don’t see us as being a critical problem in the bigger picture of the economy.”

The amount of freight trucked around New Zealand has grown to 23 billion tonnes – an increase of more than 20 percent since 2006 – Ministry of Transport figures show. 

The truck driver workforce has shrunk by nearly 13 percent in that time. 

Recruitment firm Canstaff’s managing director Matt Jones thought he knew why.

“It’s probably not sexy enough for that [younger] generation. 

“There’s a bit of graft in it, a bit of dirt under the fingernails … the millennial generation enjoy looking at a computer screen. They don’t mind driving a truck on a computer screen, but doing it in real life is a little bit different.” 

So, in lieu of New Zealanders, Mr Jones is taking matters into his own hands, travelling over to Ireland to pitch the job to youngsters.

“We’ve got 90 to 100 roles there at the moment to fill, and we just can’t fill them within New Zealand,” he said.

“We’re looking for people to come down, experience New Zealand, enjoy working in New Zealand, and Ireland certainly mirrors New Zealand on that front.”

Truck driving is a fairly lucrative job – it starts at about $50,000 a year, hits six figures at the top levels, and doesn’t require an expensive tertiary degree.

All you need to get the wheels rolling is a full driver’s licence, and one of four types of special class licence – which you can sit straight away, after having your full licence for six months.

The Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in Tauranga offers courses in heavy truck driving safety.

The group leader of those courses, Dean Colville, said enrolments had hit a low point.

“This year we’ve had the lowest numbers ever. Normally we run classes of about 20, and this year they’ve been down to about 14, and as low as six in some cases.”

Mr Colville said the problem was the six-month wait to get a full drivers licence, which meant high school graduates could not get a job in the industry immediately after high school. 

And Matt Jones agrees that, despite his Irish solution, the wider issue needs to be addressed fast. 

“The people that we’re targeting are, in many ways, short-term solutions to this problem. Their ability to remain in New Zealand long-term is very very limited, so the people we’re bringing in are a short-term gap-filler. The whole industry needs more support.”

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