Taranaki trucking and logistics firm, Symons Group, is setting up its own drivers institute.
Symons Group general manager Dean Eggars says the new institute will give drivers a 20-working day intensive experience in the cab of a variety of trucks.
"They will be buddied up with our top drivers and will gain experience working with the full range of what we pull behind our tractors."
Other providers offer training on the theory side of truck driving, says Dean, but the practical experience side has been missing.
"Symons Transport carried out a survey and found nearly 50 per cent of truck drivers or want to be truck drivers had missed out on jobs because of a lack of experience. The problem is, people haven't been able to get that experience without a job so it became a Catch 22 situation. Drivers couldn't get jobs because they had no experience, and they couldn't get experience because they didn't have the job."
Getting drivers that experience is vital, says Dean.
"In the industry, it is estimated there are about 4000 driver vacancies right now, and that is going to get worse. A lot of current truck drivers are nearing retirement, creating a shortage, but also right now the industry is growing at a rapid rate, creating even more need."
When Symons group advertises for drivers, very few of the applicants have enough practical experience, says Dean.
"They have the correct licence, the right class, but they just don't have the hours actually in the cab, and that is so important. Even driving a car, we all know it takes time to build up experience behind the wheel, you aren't the best driver you ever will be the day after you pass your driving test. When it comes to driving a truck, it is a very highly skilled job. People's lives are at risk if we don't have good, experienced drivers behind the wheel."
Before Covid-19 hit the country, Symons Group was already looking at ways to address the driver shortage, says Dean.
"Now, with more and more need, the time is clearly now to do our bit to help reduce this shortage. Before Covid we had five open positions and had maybe 10 or 20 applicants. Now we have over 140 applicants for those jobs. Making sure people can get experience is vital."
The course will cost $3000 in total, says Dean, and the process is underway to get Ministry of Social Development accreditation.
The industry is a good one to get into he says.
"It's a growing industry and of course everyone saw during Lockdown that truck drivers were essential workers, so it is good steady employment as well. Once you have been working in the industry for a few years, with a class 5 licence and working around 50 hours a week you can be earning over $70,000."