Driver shortage could affect regional growth

21 Apr 2003

The growing road transport driver shortage could significantly affect growth prospects in regions where major new forest harvesting operations are coming on-stream, the New Zealand Forest Owners' Association (NZFOA) says.

The regions include Northland, the East Coast, the southern North Island, Nelson, Canterbury and Southland.

A report into driver recruitment and retention prepared for the NZFOA, the Log Transport Safety Council and the Road Transport Forum predicts a shortage of around 200 log truck drivers by 2005. The industry currently employs about 2,000 drivers.

"Forestry is a growth industry. By 2006, forestry output is expected to have surged by about a further 50 per cent. This growth benefits the whole economy, and especially the regions, where it's creating jobs," NZFOA chief executive Rob McLagan says.

"But if we don't have more drivers to help handle the growing output, then everyone will miss out."

With much of the new harvest coming from more difficult and remote areas, Mr McLagan says the need for skilled drivers will be at even more of a premium.

"Logging truck drivers are a vitally important part of the industry. It is essential the industry continues to attract and retain good competent people."

Bruce Nairn from the Log Transport Safety Council reinforces Mr McLagan's concerns about building the number of capable drivers.

"We've made some major safety improvements with innovations like longer, lower trucks to reduce the risk of roll-overs. Having enough skilled, experienced drivers is vital to maintaining a safe, productive log transport sector as we move into harvesting the more remote areas of the North Island."

The solutions are with the industry and the Government, Mr McLagan says.

"The report gives an excellent assessment of the situation and how it can be addressed. We look forward to working closely with the Government, the log transport industry, training institutions and other agencies to give effect to the report's recommendations.

"If we don't act now, opportunities will be lost simply because we won't be able to get logs from the forests to the factories or on their way overseas. The cost to the country could run into many millions of dollars."