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Wheels in motion . . . Shannon Gainsford, a class 4 driver for Hilton Haulage, could soon be joined by many others, thanks to a proposed new Ara course. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

by Alexia Johnston

A Timaru course aimed at filling the truck driver shortage is awaiting the tick of approval from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).

The proposed Ara Institute of Canterbury course would take 30 weeks to complete, of which 17 would be working in the industry.

Ara chief executive Tony Gray said the concept had been on the drawing board since January.

A team of colleagues at Ara Timaru have been working with the South Canterbury transport sector to develop the new strategy, with a focus on the promotion and professionalism of heavy vehicle operations in the district.

As a result, the New Zealand certificate in heavy vehicle operation level 3 had been developed and was waiting for NZQA approval, he said.

Mr Gray hoped to get the green light in the coming weeks so it could be offered as early as July, to coincide with Ara’s second semester.

“The course is industry led and a large part of the course development has been around the integration of industry work placements, playing a vital part in the students’ learning outcomes.”

He said the qualification module had been presented to an industry panel, including representatives from Fonterra, Hilton Haulage, H&J Bruce and PrimePort, which had resulted in “very positive feedback”.

“The programme will be offered from Timaru initially, with the view that if we see interest from students, we would like to be able to offer it more widely.

“The first course we are using as a pilot programme to gauge interest and support of students and industry.”

Mr Gray said applicants must hold a class 1 learner licence to enter the course.

Students would graduate with a class 4 or 5 licence, depending on what they had when they started the programme.

Interest had already been received from “a wide range” of people, including those wanting a career change and school-leavers.

Feedback had been positive across the industry, and many groups echoed the same message.

They felt it needed to be industry led to succeed and have high levels of work experience opportunities at a range of sites, Mr Gray said.

“It must be highly practical and needs to appeal to a wide range of learners, from career changers to those who are seeking their first employment and qualifications after leaving secondary school.”

Hilton Haulage chief people officer Alle Worner said the team was excited by the opportunity to “help shape an industry qualification” for the transport and logistics sector.

“We regularly have Inquiries from people with little to no experience or exposure to transport and driving, and due to the large units we run, often have no way of helping them get into trucking or the transport business,” she said.

“The course will help us to bridge that gap by offering people the basics they need to know, will get them through to the next stage of their heavy licence, coupled with a huge amount of work experience – it’s the on-job learning that really makes this course work for us at Hiltons.”

She said it meant people could try the company out as well before deciding if the environment was for them.

“At the same time, we want to encourage young people into transport. However, again, it’s difficult to take them straight from school without any experience, and often without having started on a class 1 licence.

“Having an educational pathway to get them started, with real hands-on, practical delivery of relevant unit standards just makes lots of sense.”

She said qualifications had value and that was important for the new generation coming through, so it “ticks lots of boxes” from all avenues.

Aoraki Development has also supported Ara during the development of the course.

Aoraki Development chief executive Nigel Davenport said its success so far was being driven by a collaborative approach from a wide range of industry experts.

He said it was a widely accepted fact that New Zealand needed more skilled drivers, and the course was a local response by industry aimed at making an impact.