An email from a truckie

Yesterday we wrote about immigrant drivers and a commenter expressed his view about the responsibility of the industry.

I have received this email from an industry insider:

Dear Mr Whale Oil,

I believe that the government has made an error in removing truck drivers from the skill shortage list.

In this case I agree with what the Herald journalist has written, and I know that a mistake has been made with this decision.

It was interesting to read your piece, and the comments.

Without doubt there is a shortage of drivers in New Zealand, and in most of the developed world. This is because these people (drivers) have special skills, and we aren?t making them fast enough.

Ken Shirley said it takes years to make a Class 5 driver, and one of your commenters said that it takes a much shorter time. Please understand that this is not about getting a licence. Any half-arsed dickhead can get a licence. I am talking about being a driver of a unit weighing 40 tonnes, driving head on towards you, and worth $500,000. Not anyone can drive one of those. Not anyone can get ability to drive a heavy vehicle in a short time. The guys we train take about 3 years to get to that level.?

As an industry we have not trained and produced drivers over the past ten years (or more), but as a society we have not encouraged people into the trades and professions generally. There is also a shortage of plumbers, carpenters, bus drivers, mechanics and lots of other vocations. The shortage started when three things happened. One was the dropping of apprenticeship schemes. This lost many kids their chance of using manual skills and forced them into areas of work that they were not suited for, and took them away from vocations like driving.

The second was (and still is) the rise of the academic institutions marketing their services to schools (staff and pupils) and creating the belief that everybody needs a degree to succeed. The idea is laudable, but it deprives all of those people whose life skills are not in academia with nowhere to go but the failure queue.

The third thing has been the rise of OSH programmes and culture. Driving was a family task, and drivers often brought their children with them to work during holidays and weekends. These kids grew into the lifestyle, and became the next generation of drivers. We can no longer do this as site rules and safety considerations do not allow children on site.

We employed a number of drivers from the UK. These guys were experienced drivers, and worked well in NZ. They were strung out by our immigration system in a way that no reasonable person should be. The hoops that they were made to jump through were humiliating, expensive and pointless. Most of them have gone back to the UK, although some have endured the crap from immigration and stayed. Stuff like files being lost, and documents obtained again. Copies were not acceptable and originals had to be sourced again. A teenage child did not submit documents correctly and was told to go back to the UK without parents. Trade Union permission was sought for every applicant.

Some companies used drivers from India, Asia and the Pacific Islands, and certainly these people would have been cheap to employ. I have only anecdotal knowledge of these employers, and some of them are not around now. Employing people because they have a licence from another country doesn?t mean that they are any good, and someone who is no good is no good despite a plastic licence.

Drivers are under appreciated and underpaid. The reason they are underpaid is because New Zealanders think that transport of goods is too expensive and they don?t want to pay more. Transport companies live on slim margins, and there is no room for cost increases. We also need drivers. But if you pay more New Zealand pays more. It is a catch 22 situation that we have lived with for a long time. Try and get increased transport prices from a customer and see if they are concerned about a driver shortage. They have no interest at all. In their defence they probably don?t understand the situation, but nor do they want to. They have their own issues to deal with, and they leave us to deal with ours.

We transport goods well. We don?t train drivers well. It has been this way since some of the structural changes mentioned above deprived us of the circumstances to do so. Bureaucrats think that someone can go to a tertiary institute and come out a truck driver. It sure doesn?t work like that. We have employed a number of these people, and we effectively start from scratch with them. That creates a feeling amongst some of them that they are undervalued and underappreciated and that they should be driving the biggest rig on day one.

There is no way that these people are qualified to drive what they think they are, and as a result they drift off into other work, or become a client of WINZ.

Make no mistake our industry is the lifeblood of New Zealand, and it is sorely under appreciated by New Zealanders who simply don?t understand what we do. Nothing that you touch daily would be there were it not for a truck delivering it.

I am not bleating, but we do need drivers, and there is no magic solution.

Removing us from the skills list was a stupid and short sighted decision, and in this case the journalist got it right. The government got it wrong.