If you are not reading the tea leaves the Government are steeping then let me be clear, employers are facing some big challenges and our industry is going to have to make some changes.

Government policies are focused on training New Zealanders for employment before migrants, vastly restricting the number and “skills” of migrants, and ensuring higher pay and better conditions for employees. That’s before we even get to the environmental imperatives.

The employment landscape has also changed. It seems everyone wants to start as the boss, on the boss’s salary. With low unemployment and greater expectations, young people in the workforce are shopping around for the best deals and future prospects. They want work-life balance, qualifications, and recognition for doing well.

This groundswell is gathering momentum and if employers in road freight transport turn their backs on it, they will struggle to survive.

The average age of a truck driver today is 54. We need to be thinking about bringing through our future workforce, and the workforce behind that, and so on. We can’t do that if we just truck on the way we always have.

The Road Transport Forum (RTF) has been preparing for the changing landscape and last month, we formally launched the industry’s training programme, Te ara ki tua Road to success. We have worked with a number of government agencies to get this off the ground and got endorsement at the launch event from two Cabinet Ministers – Social Development and Employment Minister Carmel Sepuloni and Transport and Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood.

Government wants to see industries sorting their own issues, but they are also supportive of such moves.

I guess it’s just the New Zealand tall poppy syndrome, but it is disappointing when every positive step is met with derision by some in the industry. Road to success pays people while they train and earn recognised qualifications, and we opted to better the minimum wage with a liveable wage. Some people in the industry object to paying $21.50 an hour to secure their future workforce. The optics of that are not good.

The vitriol on social media platforms about truck driver wages and working conditions should be sounding warning bells and certainly don’t help to promote truck driving as a career choice for a new young and diverse cohort – at least only older people use Facebook.

The race to the bottom just makes the RTF’s role advocating for the best possible conditions for the road freight transport industry more difficult. But we operate on support from a coalition of the willing. Those who can see what’s ahead, rather than what’s in the rearview mirror, understand we need to show the Government and prospective employees a willingness to change.

We know we need to focus on more than just training. We need a safe and compliant industry focused on the future and ready for changes and challenges, the greatest of which will probably centre around carbon neutral goals. We think industry should work on solving its own issues rather than waiting for the big hand of government to direct terms and conditions.

That is why the RTF is working on developing a way the industry could be covered by an accord that meets the government’s requirements and makes the industry safe, compliant and attractive now, and into the future, for those young people looking for their next career move.

Let’s look forward as we consolidate our great industry transporting all the goods New Zealanders need.

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