There is a huge shortage of truck drivers in New Zealand, particularly class 5 drivers, so now is a good time to get into this industry. First you will need a heavy vehicle licence. You can practice the heavy vehicle theory tests for free here and it’s advisable to understand the logbook and work time rules which you can learn in this short course. Then there’s a practical test. There are four grades of heavy vehicle licence: class 2, 3, 4 and 5. Check what type of truck you can drive with different licences here. There’s a process for working your way through them, starting at class 2, and a reputable heavy vehicle training firm can help you with that. There are specific requirements for some types of drivers in the form of licence endorsements or additional training and certification required. For example, to become a car transporter driver or tow truck driver, this is the process.
Types of truck driving jobs
There are six main types of truck driving jobs anywhere in the world:
- Location-to-location, less-than-a-full-load, or local drivers perform deliveries in a local area not too far from the depot or home base. Each delivery can be broken into several locations, e.g. you are delivering soft drinks to restaurants and cafes.
- Regional and short-haul drivers drive fairly short distances and might be away overnight sometimes. For example, Auckland to Hamilton or Tauranga is short haul.
- Long haul drivers drive further distances and might be away for several days at a time. This includes inter-island drivers. Drivers in teams (e.g. husband and wife) can keep a truck operating more efficiently for long haul as one can be driving while the other is resting. Linehaul is a term used for a route from pickup to drop-off with no stops for other deliveries in between.
- Driving instructors can teach other drivers how to drive a truck. You need an I (instructor) endorsement to do that. There’s more information here.
- Shunter drivers work only in a yard and move (shunt) vehicles and trailers around. It’s not necessary to have a heavy vehicle licence to have this job, but it will help.
- Specialist truck drivers drive machinery that wouldn’t be eligible to be road-registered on private property e.g. in a mine or on a farm.
Applying for a job as a truck driver
There are a few different ways to get a job as a truck driver:
- Apply through a job website or newspaper ad – this is the least desirable because you don’t know who else is applying, and it’s your CV versus all the others
- Apply through an agency – this is slightly better than via a job ad because if the agency trusts you then they will try to place you so that they earn your fee. The disadvantage is that it can make it more expensive for the company to hire you as the agency will want the equivalent of 20% of your salary as a fee. Make sure you negotiate your salary.
- You know someone at a company that is hiring – this is the best way because you’ve got a warm lead and you can talk to the person; it allows you to jump ahead of the majority of other candidates
- You approach the company directly – this is also good because it shows initiative and if you can build rapport with the person on the phone it’s as good as knowing someone in the company
- You get a job in a company you are already working for, for example you might be a yard hand and you earn the company’s trust so they help you through the training required to be a driver
- Buy or lease your own truck and start your own company – hard going if you don’t have any business experience as you’ll need to know your obligations to IRD and will need to have the cashflow to keep your business running, but it could be more financially rewarding in the end. There’s more at the end of this article.
What job information should you look for?
You need to know as many of the following as possible:
- Hourly rate or salary
- Is overtime paid
- What are the working hours (e.g. regular, consistent hours, or is it shift work)
- What type of truck will you be driving
- What type of licence will you need
- Do you need any licence endorsements or other training
- What loads will you be carrying
- What type of job is it, e.g. line haul
- Will you be responsible for other tasks in the company
What should you send?
The job ad should specify how to approach them and it’ll usually be a CV and/or a cover letter. However, this is just to weed out the rubbish candidates. The majority of companies want someone proactive, so if you call to find out more, then it’s likely you will be given preferential treatment. If any of the above are not included in the job ad you can call and specifically ask (although hourly rate and overtime are sometimes difficult conversations to have until they’ve met you). You can probably think of other sensible questions such as whether the company assists with ongoing training, what type of person are they looking for, etc. There’s such a shortage of drivers that if you call and are organised, articulate and have the skills, there’s a good chance you will be employed with very little fuss.
What do employers look for?
- Courteous driving with attention to driving safely and economically – you will be driving a vehicle with the company’s branding, therefore you are their ambassador out in the marketplace
- Calmness in stressful situations – certain trucking jobs can go wrong, e.g. issues with loading or deliveries, traffic problems, breakdowns and so on. A company will look for a pragmatic problem solver that stays calm
- Punctuality – if you turn up late, that indicates to the company that you won’t respect other people’s time schedules for deliveries
- Knowledge of safe practices around the workplace
- Ability to plan and organise
- Good English communication skills and the ability to get on with people, particularly customers
- Ability to work alone for long periods (i.e. you’re driving), but also to function in a team environment when things need to get done.
Things you can do to help
- Ask them what you can do to be the most useful driver for them. You may have beneficial skills and contacts, or be able to help with a problem they have.
- Can you bring clients to the business (without breaking your existing employer’s contract – your potential employer won’t want to think that you could do the same to them in the future)
- Are you respectful (note: don’t ever disrespect your previous employers because your potential employer sitting opposite you will assume that you will say that about them)
- Can you do maintenance on the trucks?
- Are you happy to work unpopular shifts?
- What other endorsements do you have, e.g. dangerous goods, wheels, tracks, rollers, forklift, etc
- Have you done any advanced driving courses such as Institute of Advanced Motorists training?
- Are you prepared to get involved in company activities, e.g. the company might run a race car or sponsor a local team.
How do truck drivers get paid?
There are four main ways you could get paid working as a truck driver:
- Salaried employee: you get paid a salary, i.e. a certain amount per week (possibly plus overtime). There might be non-driving tasks you have to complete, depending on what type of company you are driving for.
- Hourly rate: you get paid for the hours you are on the job, i.e. either just hours driven, or hours loading and driving.
- Paid by the load: this is very common. You get paid for successfully delivering a specific load. Smart drivers can also arrange other pickups along the way if possible to maximise the money they earn. I.e. you want to try to avoid driving anywhere with an empty truck.
- Paid per kilometre: you and the transport manager will agree on a route and you’ll be paid for the kilometres on that route. This can work out well if there’s little traffic, but it can become frustrating and costly if there are delays or detours due to roadworks or general traffic.
What tasks do truck drivers do when they’re not driving?
Maintenance: general safety checks are a requirement before any journey, but you also might be able to do preventative maintenance on the truck in downtime (better than the truck being off the road with a breakdown when it’s critical to get a job delivered)
Logbooks and paperwork: check your logbook requirements here. You must be able to keep accurate records not only because it’s against the law to not do so, but because your employer needs to be able to accurately invoice the person that will pay them for the delivery
Planning routes and schedules: Depending on what you are carrying and what time of the day you are travelling, you might need to plan specific routes. Route planning should ensure that the driver is driving an efficient route that doesn’t overstress the truck, and the delivery is made on time.
Loading and unloading goods: the driver is responsible for ensuring the load is loaded securely and may also be responsible for unloading, too. Certain types of goods require specific knowledge such as carrying cars, flammable liquids and combustible chemicals.
Dangers to the driver when driving a heavy vehicle
There are health risks through being a truck driver. In brief:
- Noisy cab and loading/unloading environments can cause hearing damage over the long-term
- Sedentary lifestyle can cause weight gain and loss of fitness, plus lead to sleep apnoea and other sleep disorders
- Heavy lifting plus noise and vibration in the cab can cause musculoskeletal issues
- Driving in urban areas can increase the exposure to vehicle fumes
- Driving shifts can lead to sleep problems and increase the risk of falling asleep at the wheel
Running your own trucking company
If you want to make more money then you can start your own trucking company. It’s best to choose an industry and a niche to start in so that you can learn everything you need to know in a short space of time and you can look for efficiencies you can make to be competitive. It helps if you already have a contact that can give you a contract. For example, you might be able to get a contract carrying logs, therefore you’ll know that you’ll need a class 5 licence and a trailer suitable for hauling logs. The next step will be to see if you can get enough work so you need two trucks, rather than opportunistically take a job hauling toilet paper between Auckland and Wellington.
Reasons for the current truck driver shortage
• Long working hours – up to 70 hours a week, plus travel to and from a depot
• Alcohol and drug testing – many drivers fail compulsory and random drug tests
• Cost to get license – it can take several thousand dollars
• Time to get license – it can take several years to get a class 5 licence
• Not as appealing as trades – tradespeople don’t spend long hours away from home and it’s a more active lifestyle
• Unclear career pathways – see above for your options
• Bad press – movies and media don’t always portray truck drivers fairly
• Variable wages – there’s a lot of pressure on prices at the moment
• Immigration policy – recent governments have not addressed the shortage and have made it difficult for truck drivers to move to New Zealand.