Female truckies walk into jobs paying $60,000-plus a year as the transport industry
Samantha Fraser loves her job driving a 48-tonne Freightliner carrying shipping containers, and her annual income of about $75,000 is a truckload more than if she had stayed working in hospitality.
Former hairdresser and make-up artist Emma Satherley is equally at home behind the wheel of a big rig, carting logs on forestry roads around Southland, and her goal is to one day buy her own truck.
The pair will be among six women in a field of 40 competing in the national truck driving champs at a truck show in Christchurch later this month.
They are keen to see a greater female presence in the trucking industry where women make up just under 10% of about 400,000 heavy vehicle licence holders at a time when there is a huge shortage of drivers.
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Pay rates vary, but industry sources suggest entry-level jobs driving small trucks pay at least $60,000 a year, and $70,000 to $80,000 a year for a 40 to 50 hour week is not uncommon.
More experienced drivers with class 4 or 5 licences working 50 to 60 hour weeks can earn north of $100,000 annually, but according to industry estimates, only about 6% of this group are female.
Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting NZ chief executive Nick Leggett says recruiting more women would help address driver vacancies which are next year projected to hit 2700 for the commercial road transport industry.
Add to that demand from other businesses, such as supermarket and hardware suppliers, that run their own delivery trucks, and the outlook is grim unless the workforce diversifies.
“The traditional demographic of a truck driver needs to change because we’re running out of 65-year-old white guys.
“If you have a driver shortage, it’s not rocket science to work out you should be making your industry more appealing to the gender that is virtually not represented.
“Women are more than 50% of the population, but they make up only a tiny proportion of drivers.”
Fraser had done cleaning and nannying, and worked in retail and in hospitality before starting truck driving more than eight years ago.
She says it’s a great career option which requires no formal qualifications on entry, and she trained on the job at NZ Express Transport in Christchurch.
“This is a job women can do, they just need to bite the bullet and get out and do it.
“I was working in a café and the trucking boys would stop for lunch, and I thought how good would that be, to be out and about each day, seeing the city and meeting new people.”
Satherley grew up on a Waikato dairy, learning to drive “as soon as I was old enough to reach the pedals.”
Initially trained as a hairdresser and make-up artist, she abandoned that career after a traumatic assault on an overseas trip led her to rethink what she wanted in life.
Six-and-a-half years ago she completed a 12-week professional heavy vehicle driving course, graduating with a class 2 licence.
That landed her a job with a Hamilton food delivery company where her then pink hair caused some customers to do a double-take when they spotted her at the wheel, and she detected “a slight undertone” from some male drivers.
“But once I had established myself, got my class 5 licence and my trailer behind me, and started to build my reputation, I proved this girl is here to stay, and she can do it.”
Satherley says it was three or four years before she came across another female truckie, and although she has heard some unfortunate horror stories from other women drivers, her own experience has been positive.
“I’ve worked for some great companies with great men alongside me who have always treated me as an equal.”
She drives up to 500km a day carting logs from Southland forests, but is about to take up a new position doing dispatch management to fulfil a long term plan to ultimately become an owner-driver, and possibly branch out into transporting machinery.
Fraser meantime is expecting her first child next year with husband Dean Fraser, transport operations manager at NZ Express, and hopes to continue driving as a casual.
She says her delivery runs around Christchurch allow her to be home every night, and company policies are very family friendly.
NZ Express Transport general manger Murray Young says five of his 50 drivers are women, and flexible work hours are available to accommodate school hours and shared parenting.
“Women bring a different perspective to the workplace, they communicate effectively, and they work more collaboratively.”
Leggett says attitudes are changing amongst larger employers who would once have said “it’s a 60 to 70 hour a week job, take it or leave it”.
“We’ve got to recognise there are some workers who might only want to do around town work, 9.30am to 2.30pm, and the industry has to make that change if they want to compete for a workforce.”
Transporting New Zealand’s Road to Success on-the-job training programme launched two years ago aims to have enroled 1000 people by 2023, and director Fiona McDonagh would ideally like a 50-50 gender split.
Neil Bretherton is development general manager at TR Group, a truck leasing and hire business, which also runs driver training courses.
He says 11% of the 853 new drivers trained last year were women, and improved pay rates are a factor in the big increase in female participation.
Automation also means big trucks are less daunting to drive, new technology for lifting gear has made the job less physically demanding, and the transport industry is waking up to the importance of recruiting more women.
“We have to make sure our bathrooms are clean and the way we talk to people is more inclusive.
“The new generation coming through are perhaps a bit more open-minded.”
Fraser’s mother began truck driving in her forties, and Bretherton says age is no barrier to entry.
“In a lot of industries, once you’re north of 50, opportunities start to close down, but [in transport] the older you are, the more experience you have, the more value you have.”
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