We’ve heard about Queensland’s campaign to recruit Kiwi police officers with promises of better pay and conditions, warmer weather, and a relaxing lifestyle.

Are the Aussies attempting to do the same with Kiwi truck drivers – and should we be concerned?

A reporter asked me to comment recently and my response was that while a trans-Tasman truck driver exodus may not be a huge issue right now, we should still be concerned about how we attract and retain drivers as that affects all of us in the industry.

For decades, people from many professions, of which truck driving is just one, have left our shores for jobs overseas. “Fly-in fly-out” work opportunities in Australia have also been available for a long time, in mines, on oil rigs, and driving long-haul road trains.

While I’ve heard a few stories I haven’t seen any data showing an increasing trend of truck drivers going to Australia, either permanently or for FIFO work. Some truck-driving tasks here, such as milk, are highly seasonal, so it’s not been unknown for drivers to take on a few jobs in the off season, such as building, plumbing, and electrical work.

But research indicates the driver shortage will increase and that will reduce the resilience of our industry and affect the critical activity of moving freight. Whether truck drivers flying in and out of Australia is a major contributor or not, we know the market for drivers is tight, and it is responding in different ways. One of these is having more overseas drivers entering the New Zealand market, which is helping manage the changes we are experiencing with our workforce.

The reasons for the shortage are diverse and complex. Challenges to being a driver include long hours and shift work; loneliness; uncertainty and stress – particularly with road closures, road works and congestion. There’s also increasing pressure from other parts of the supply chain, such as the demand for “just-in-time” delivery, other road users, and a highly competitive labour market.

Training and developing drivers takes time and major investments in resources. There are some companies making extraordinary efforts to invest in our future driver stock. I know of operators working closely with their local colleges to develop and nurture drivers on the journey from car to truck drivers which I applaud, and am grateful for.

However, a disproportionally large part of our sector is made up of small to medium-sized firms and for them driver training and getting drivers through their licence classes is challenging, if not near impossible.

Another factor is the disruption from Covid-19, which led to high attrition rates among the youngest and oldest cohorts of logistics workers due to work preference changes.

It is hard to quantify the size of the driver shortage. In May 2023, a Deloitte report commissioned by Hanga-Aro-Rau, the Workforce Development Council, projected a 2023 workforce gap of 4672 in the logistics sector.

However, that includes roles other than drivers, and an estimate from PerformX suggests the shortage is about 2400 drivers.

What other things am I hearing? Some operators are frustrated with drivers leaving, but there are also demand risks – the international demand for logs is down, and global pricing for milk is low. Ironically, these trends may mean fewer drivers are required in the short term, which helps with the shortage.

The current shortfall doesn’t appear to be having a significant impact on our economy yet – however, that does not mean it is not a risk. We can, and must, take action. Transporting New Zealand is playing a lead role in a series of initiatives to increase the attraction and retention of drivers.

  • We are promoting the tertiary qualifications pathway roadtosuccess.nz
  • We host regular industry promotional events and support improved working conditions including greater flexibility in working hours and a performance rewards system.
  • We support diversity and mental health and well-being programmes.
  • We are talking with MBIE on how immigration policy can influence investment in training and development of drivers. We’re also advising operators about on managing migrant drivers and had a successful webinar on this just yesterday.

Most drivers I speak to find professional truck driving to be an exciting, enjoyable, and rewarding career – I know of some cases where companies have a waiting list of drivers. Perks vary from gift vouchers and flexible work hours through to the joy of driving high-tech trucks. There can be a wide variety of work and, particularly for line haul, drivers get to travel and see the beautiful changing landscapes our country has to offer!


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