Industries join forces on immigration
AS THE DRIVER SHORTAGE BECOMES acute, operators are spending more and more time looking for solutions – both short and longterm – to address the problem and keep their trucks on the road. It may be of little comfort to know that the driver shortage is not a New Zealand-only phenomenon. But all over the developed world, countries are struggling with finding enough drivers to fulfil the freight task.
The fact is it’s getting harder and harder to attract young people to become professional truck drivers. It’s a skilled labour job and there’s a chronic shortage.
Simply put, a lot of the road transport industry is not competitive in the skilled labour market either: These days a wide variety of trades and professions are competing for a limited pool of jobseekers and school-leavers…and frankly as a sector we’re struggling to keep up.
Other jobs in other industries have become far more attractive – with arguably better work-life balance, career progression and remuneration. With the pressure coming on the construction sector from large infrastructure projects and initiatives like Kiwibuild, for example, it is likely that we will face this competitive environment for a long time to come.
The good thing is industry accepts that longterm the solution must come from within. There is no doubt that the driver shortage is front-of-mind for us, as is illustrated by industry initiatives such as SWEP.
However, in other countries there is support for the industry by way of short-term immigration measures to help bring in overseas drivers, hence the number of Eastern Europeans in the United Kingdom or the United States, driving trucks.
Unfortunately, successive governments in NZ have taken a much more nationalistic stance to immigration policy in recent years, particularly regarding working visa rules. While this Government has softened its position somewhat since it was elected last year, there’s very little hope that professional driving will find its way back onto Immigration NZ’s skills shortage lists anytime soon.
Since truck drivers were removed from the Immediate Skills
Shortage List in 2014, operators have found it extremely difficult to recruit drivers from overseas. The bureaucracy is overwhelming and anecdotally we hear from a lot of operators who have just given up because of it.
While RTF continues to advocate for truck drivers to be reinstated, the likelihood of that happening is extremely low. We have therefore joined in a broader campaign involving other prominent industry associations facing similar workforce shortages. This has recently been formalised by the signing of the Employment and Immigration Charter.
The Charter’s stated objective is to “bring together leading industry organisations and peak bodies with a common interest in ensuring that NZ has a vibrant labour market, with sufficient capacity to meet the needs of our growing industries.”
Signatories to the Charter represent sectors that traditionally struggle to attract local workers – including forestry, horticulture, farming, aged care, civil contractors, hospitality, tourism and road transport.
The Charter sets out some basic principles that associations representing these sectors believe need to be addressed in order for NZ to have an immigration policy consistent with the needs of our economy.
We advocate for a longterm strategy to ensure there are sufficient motivated NZers to resource our future workforce needs and – where there are gaps in the labour force – that these can be bridged by the implementation of a stable and consistent immigration programme.
We also want to see our immigration policies be competitive with those of other key countries reliant on immigration to bridge labour shortages, including Australia and Canada, as well as more public recognition of the valuable role migrant workers play in the NZ economy.
While this Charter doesn’t call for specific numbers or address labour shortages in specific regions or industries, it is designed to reframe the debate around immigration and move us away from the kind of xenophobia-laden protectionist politics that have dominated the public debate over the past few years.
RTF will continue to encourage political parties to reassess their policies on immigration and the value of migrant labour in industries such as ours.
Unfortunately, many of our politicians have become convinced that providing jobs, housing and infrastructure for Kiwis can only be achieved by dampening demand in those things, and reactionary anti-immigration policies are the low-hanging, voter-laden fruit in that blame game.
The reality therefore is that the driver shortage will only be solved by encouraging and incentivising a larger domestic workforce that can be sustained and expanded to meet the requirements of NZ’s future freight task.
To do that we have to work hard to improve the attractiveness of our industry. Halting the race to the bottom by charging realistic freight rates is a good place to start.
“Halting the race to the bottom by charging realistic freight rates is a good place to start”
The Canadian trucking industry is facing a shortage of 48,000 drivers by2024 – however, Canadian immigration policy means that overseas drivers are encouraged to apply for vacant positionsPicture:“Coca Cola” by Benson Kua, licensed under CC BY 2.0
by Ken Shirley Chief Executive R T F NZ