Heavy Truck Driver
Kaitaraiwa Taraka Taumaha
This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Heavy truck drivers drive trucks with or without trailers. They transport materials, livestock, machinery, liquids, general freight, and sometimes hazardous substances.
Heavy truck drivers usually earn
$16-$25 per hour
Source: Road Transport Forum NZ.
Current job prospects
Heavy truck drivers usually earn between $16 and $25 an hour. However, pay can vary greatly depending on the:
- industry you work in – for example, forestry, freight or agriculture
- size of the vehicle you drive
- region you work in
- company you work for
- length of the trip.
Source: Road Transport Forum NZ.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Heavy truck drivers may do some or all of the following:
- carry out routine checks of their truck
- weigh their truck before and after it is loaded
- supervise or help with loading their truck
- check the condition of the load and that it is secure
- follow the correct safety procedures if goods being transported are dangerous
- keep records of, and check invoices for materials they are carrying
- plan the best route of delivery
- drive a truck to make deliveries or pick up goods
- keep a logbook of the hours they work.
Self-employed truck drivers also run their own business.
Skills and knowledge
Heavy truck drivers need to have:
- excellent driving skills
- basic knowledge of the mechanics of their truck and how to maintain it
- knowledge of how to secure loads – for example, how to use load binders, chains and strops
- knowledge of transport laws and related industry laws
- knowledge of emergency procedures and how to handle hazardous conditions
- ability to use satellite tracking equipment and on-board computers.
Heavy truck drivers who are self-employed also need to have good business skills.
Heavy truck drivers:
- work varying hours depending on what kind of truck driving they do. The number of hours they are allowed to work is governed by Land Transport New Zealand regulations
- work in conditions that may be stressful, including working in poor weather conditions and in heavy traffic
- may work locally or travel long distances, which can mean they have to spend nights away from home.
What's the job really like?
Renee King - Heavy Truck Driver
Renee's truck trips started early
When she was 10, Renee King sat with her father as he did his truck round, but she didn't expect to one day be driving a truck herself. "I didn't grow up thinking to myself 'I want to be a truck driver.' I just sort of fell into it.”
She now drives a 19-tonne swing loader, transporting containers between the Wellington wharves and depots in Petone.
Loading trucks requires a steady hand
When Renee gets to a loaded container, she first has to calculate its weight to ensure it is within the legal limit of her truck. After lowering the hydraulic legs that stabilise the truck and positioning the swing arm, she hooks the heavy chains that will lift the 40-foot container.
Using a remote that controls the swing lift, Renee then manoeuvres the container onto the truck. It can be a delicate process that involves a high degree of co-ordination and skill.
Long days on the wharves
Renee's days are long – she picks up her first container at 7am and drops off her last at about 9pm. “I go until there’s no more work. If it runs out, I go looking for it. When it’s windy and raining at the wharves, it’s not very pleasant, but I love the work and wouldn’t give it up.”
Samuel Henry shows us a day in the life of a truck driver - 5.58 mins. (Video courtesy of MITO)
Clinton: To find out what it takes to be a truck driver, Sam will be observing Steve Buckwell, AKA Buck. With 20 years' experience and his own business as a contract trainer and relief driver, what qualities does Buck look for in an apprentice?
Buck: A willingness to learn I suppose is the first key ingredient. You’ve got to have a good attitude, good mental fitness, a hell of a lot of concentration is needed while you’re driving.
Clinton: Sam will soon find out if he’s got what it takes.
Buck: Hi Sam, I’m Buck. How are ya?
Buck: Welcome to the Golden Bay Hamer St depot. We’re going to get into it and have a look at a bit of truck driving. First of all, we’d better get you into some kit – safety vest, and I‘ll get you into these boots, mate.
Buck: We do a pre-check on the truck, to make sure it’s safe to operate for the day. If you flick the bonnet forward, we’ll have a look at the motor.
Buck: Good one mate, you’ve passed the first test.
Buck: Alright buddy, this is the powerhouse of the truck, I guess. Twelve-litre, turbo-charged diesel, 470 horsepower, so it’s a little bit more than your average car. Pulls 40 tonne quite easily up a hill. Your car would have trouble doing that. Before we get into it, you’ve got to make sure the thing’s got oil. It lives on oil and fluid and water. So it’s just checking the stick, the same as a car. It’s that simple.
Clinton: Buck takes Sam through the pre-check to make sure everything is in its rightful place and working as it should be.
Buck: It’s got some go-juice in it.
Clinton: Once the pre-check is complete, it’s time to load up the tanker.
Buck: Now we want to lower the chute into the tanker and continue to load it.
Clinton: Cement is released through the chute from the silo, which is all controlled by a computer.
Sam: So that red screen displays the weight?
Buck: About there, beautiful mate – 39 tonnes and 80 kilos.
Buck: We’re off to Stresscrete in Papakura mate.
Sam: So how did you get started?
Buck: I guess a love of trucks and a passion for driving heavy vehicles is probably the reason I got into it.
Sam: What are the main difficulties driving a truck?
Buck: You have to be forever conscious that you are driving something that can kill people, you know. And you’ve got to drive it correctly. But through all your best efforts of driving it correctly, things still go wrong and they’re called accidents. But the more effort you put into driving properly, you eliminate a lot if those chances, which is what it’s all about I suppose.
Buck: Now the easy bit! Unloading it…
Buck: Now you want to pull this hose out of the thing...it’s quite long, so you’ve got to give it some slack.
Buck: Got it in mate?
Buck: You’re hired mate!
Buck: Before you connect it out, just make sure there are no twists in it.
Sam: Yep, that's the one.
Buck: It’s the same deal as on the truck, slip it on and put those safety clips on... Leave your foot on if you want.
Clinton: So, how’s Sam finding the experience so far?
Sam: To me, getting on the road is good and getting a real hands-on feel to what is involved. I do enjoy this loading.
Clinton: It’s off to the depot. Time to reload, and take a well-deserved break.
Buck: Good mate? Got all the food groups covered here! A good truckie meal.
Buck: Here you go sir! Just give that window a quick wash mate, and then maybe just go down the side of the trailer and truck, and just do the wheels too, eh mate?
Sam: Er, what? What?
Buck: And once you’ve finished that I’ve got another couple over here for you to do…
Sam: Hold on, hold on! I didn’t sign up for this…
Buck: Come on mate, you’ve got to start somewhere. Get into it…
Buck: I think Sam was really good. He had a good attitude and seems like a motivated young fella. He’ll go far in whatever he decides to do, but he’d make a good truck driver I believe.
Sam: The whole experience has been really good. It’s really opened my eyes up to the perspective of the truck drivers, and what they do, day to day. I didn’t think of all the little things that they had to do, and every little thing I'd never thought of. It’s been really good.
Clinton: Before you can qualify to drive a truck, you need to be at least 17 and a half years old and have successfully completed your Class 2 learner driver's licence before you are able to enter a truck cab for training. The cost to become qualified can range from $1,000 to $2,500. The starting hourly rate is $13 to $16, and the average hourly rate is $36.
To become a heavy truck driver you need to hold a licence for the size of truck you intend to drive.
- You must first get a Class 2 learner's licence. To get this licence you must have held a full car licence for at least six months.
- Once you have the Class 2 licence, you can work toward licences for other vehicle classes.
Heavy truck drivers who carry hazardous goods need to have completed unit standards in dangerous goods, which can be done as part of a National Certificate in Commercial Road Transport.
National Certificates in Commercial Road Transport are available through MITO.
The New Zealand Army also trains and employs heavy truck drivers.
- New Zealand Transport Agency website - information on trucks and other heavy vehicle licences
- MITO - information about National Certificates in Commercial Road Transport
- Defence Careers website - information about being a driver in the Army
There are no specific secondary education requirements, but useful subjects include NCEA Level 2 maths and English.
Heavy truck drivers need to be:
- reliable and responsible
- able to follow instructions
- able to remain calm in emergencies
- able to work well under pressure
- courteous and law-abiding on the road.
Useful experience for heavy truck drivers includes:
- any driving work
- work as a truck driver's assistant
- work at loading and unloading facilities
- any work in goods handling and management
- warehouses or stores work
- any work in an industry related to the materials being transported – for example, farming experience before driving livestock.
Heavy truck drivers need to have good general health and good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses).
Find out more about training
- 0800 882 121 - email@example.com - www.mito.org.nz
- Road Transport Forum NZ
- (04) 472 3877 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.rtfnz.co.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Chances of getting a job are best:
- in Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Christchurch
- for drivers who hold rigid vehicle licences, which allow them to drive larger trucks
- for experienced, reliable drivers who have a proven track record.
Many employers expect job applicants to undergo drug testing. Failing a test or refusing to take one will result in an application being declined.
Good demand for heavy truck drivers in Canterbury
Due to increased demand in Canterbury, heavy truck driver appears on Immigration New Zealand's Canterbury skill shortage list. The Canterbury skill shortage list highlights occupations in shortage that are needed during the rebuild of Canterbury, following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.
September to January peak time for truck-driving opportunities
Demand for heavy truck drivers is usually highest between September and January. This is due to factors such as:
- more roadworks being done as the weather improves (heavy trucks are needed to shift materials)
- more freight around Christmastime
- more livestock being born then moved in spring
- more logging as the climate is better for harvesting and metal roads are in better condition
- higher milk production in the dairy sector.
Many heavy truck drivers are self-employed
Many heavy truck drivers are self-employed contractors who own a vehicle and contract on a long or short-term basis to companies that need their services.
Heavy truck drivers also work as employees for a wide range of industries and organisations such as:
- freight companies
- trucking companies specialising in particular industries such as forestry, dairy and petroleum
- large companies with their own transport fleets
- local and regional councils, and contractors working on their behalf
- the New Zealand Army.
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Canterbury Skill Shortage List', accessed September 2015, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupational Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand ), 2015.
- Ngatuere, M, Road Transport Forum NZ, Careers New Zealand interview, September 2015.
Progression and specialisations
Heavy truck drivers may buy their own vehicle and become self-employed. They may eventually run a fleet of trucks and employ a number of truck drivers.
It is also possible to move into:
- distribution or haulage management
- transport and logistics planning.
Heavy truck drivers may specialise in a particular area of truck driving such as:
- line haulage (city-to-city driving)
- driving trucks within town or city centres
- driving trucks for specific industries such as forestry or petroleum.
Last updated 12 June 2017