(Getty)
  • Companies in the United States are actively recruiting South African truck drivers.
  • In the United Kingdom, a shortage of drivers has seen annual salaries hit the equivalent of R1 million.
  • You aren't going to get a piece of that action just by showing up with a Code 14 licence, recruiters say.
  • But with the right experience, South Africans can make good cash overseas, then come home to set up their own businesses.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Companies in the United States are actively recruiting truck drivers from South Africa. In the United Kingdom, hourly wages have hit the equivalent of a R1 million annual salary for suitably qualified heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers.

And those countries are not alone. Driver shortages are hitting various regions as economies reboot after laying off drivers not needed during lockdowns, or after drivers on furlough sought out surer employment in less demanding industries – as the need to move stuff around keeps growing.

South Africa is a little different.

"Our clients over there [in the United States] are astounded by the fact that we have major companies in South Africa retrenching while in the US they are desperate for them," says Rob Peacock, the co-founder of the Experienced Associates professional driver programme, and a recruiter of SA truck drivers for export.

Suitable truck drivers from South Africa have the opportunity to work in the US or in other countries – at sometimes eye-popping salaries in rand terms – in an industry that insiders say offers decent prospects beyond that. Build up some capital and you can become an owner-driver, leverage that into owning a small fleet, perhaps move into training or safety work.

But it will take more than a brand new Code 14 licence to get recruited for foreign work.

One US company told Business Insider South Africa it is looking for a minimum of five years' experience; others prefer ten. Even then, just being a truck driver for long enough won't necessarily be enough. 

Here's what you need to do to get into trucking in countries now desperate for drivers.

Build up a CV with a range of experience across different types of driving

Right now, tanker drivers are a hot commodity in the US. But it is worth building a portfolio that shows range and versatility, like in just about any other profession, says Peacock. Some companies need long-haul drivers, others are looking for short-hop delivery drivers, and the commodities they are asked to transport can include just about anything you can imagine. So showing yourself to be a generalist could count in your favour.

You don't need to have done everything in trucking, though. Cross-border work is a good example. Drivers in mainland Europe may find themselves crossing borders regularly, but experience in crossing borders in Southern Africa will not translate, because the entire system is too different.

"It shows patience, at least," says Peacock about South African cross-border experience.

Collect references – and steer clear of the criminal

Background checks are important, Peacock warns; recruiters and companies both may want to talk to well-placed references who can attest to your many fine qualities, with honesty perhaps the most important.

Any criminal record is likely to see you overlooked – and that will be checked.

You'll need to be medically fit, and not on drugs

Different countries have different approaches to making sure you are physically capable of handling heavy vehicles, but potential employers and their insurance companies have rules of their own, strict ones.

You'll need to pass a full medical examination which will likely include a drug test too.

Learn to be professionally predictable

In a market such as the US, transport companies are looking for productivity through predictability, says Peacock. 

"If you can reliably predict when you will be at your delivery point, then the dispatcher can be lining up your next drive, your next cargo load."  

Showing you have mastered the variables that determine how fast you get from one place to another will make you a more sought-after driver.

You can start off as a light-vehicle courier driver – and that can even be an advantage

It may be tough to get a job driving a heavier vehicle, but spending some time behind the wheel of a bakkie that delivers online shopping could teach you valuable, and valued, skills, says Peacock.

Customer service is important for driving professionals, and so is understanding the importance of documentation, and proper trip planning. The complex job of getting parcels into the hands of individual shoppers can build experience in all three those areas, all of which will translate well into more specialised driving.

Prepare to re-qualify, from scratch

Your experience in driving, even on what Americans consider the wrong side of the road, will count for a lot, says Peacock.

"Any driver worth his salt, no matter what the vehicle, develops some abilities that you can't teach at a university, that is just experience," he says, including skills that can have a huge impact on company profits, such as noticing a slightly odd note coming from an engine.

You'll still need the proper paperwork, though, and America will not accept your South African licence. You'll have to go through the exact same process as a novice US driver to earn a commercial driver's licence (CDL) in that country.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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