New Zealand has had a truck driver shortage for well over two decades, and the Government is not willing to help the problem, says National Road Carriers Chief Operating Officer James Smith.
Trucks play a vital role in growing New Zealand’s economy. However, the workforce is losing drivers faster than gaining new ones.
Smith tells NZ Autocar the trucking industry has had a workforce shortage since 1998.
“It’s not getting any better,” he says.
“There’s a whole pile of reasons for it. You’ve got an ageing workforce: we’re not coming in as fast as people are getting older.
“You’ve got a growing economy. If the economy grows, your freight activity grows because everything requires a truck to move it.
“And then New Zealanders love to travel. So, now that the rest of the world is open, we will lose people to overseas markets. We always have, we always will. That is just a reality.
“Unless you banned everyone with a truck licence from ever leaving the country, and I wouldn’t put it past the Government to try that, you are not going to stop people leaving to explore other opportunities.”
Smith wants the Government to accelerate and ease its immigration process so more international truck drivers can fill vacant roles sooner.
He fears the economy will stall if they don’t.
“It’s one of many answers. There’s no single answer to this problem, and it is right across the whole economy.
“So, we need [the Government] to turn the tap back on for overseas workers.
“You’ve got to have a flow coming the other way to balance it out
“At the moment, there is no flow coming the other way to balance it out. So, we are going to run out of people who can work.”
NZ Autocar tried to reach out to Immigration New Zealand for comment but is yet to hear anything.
Smith acknowledged previous attempts to get more drivers into the workforce and says he will continue supporting these ideas.
“Just this year we’ve got programmes in place to convert people who want to try driving but are currently doing something else.”
However, Smith says the drivers coming into the sector need to have lots of experience.
“Just because you have a truck licence doesn’t mean you can drive. We need experienced drivers.”
Asked how many experienced overseas drivers there are looking for jobs, Smith wasn’t sure.
“We won’t know until we ask.
“The challenge we’ve got is other countries are open. Everyone has got a driver shortage. Europe’s got a driver shortage, America’s got a driver shortage, Canada’s got a driver shortage.
“So, if [these countries] are open and we’re shut, we’re stuck.”
We searched ‘Truck Driver’ into Seek and found nearly 2,500 job offers around the country.
A steady number of truck driver vacancies have been advertised for well over a year.
But Smith is adamant the workforce shortage is not just a truck issue. Instead, it is industry-wide.
“It’s absolutely everything. Every part of the economy is screaming for workers.”