The story of Unnati Patel – the first Kiwi Indian female Class 5 truck and trailers driver - is nothing short of an inspiration for the entire community.
She is demolishing many standard stereotypes about the so-called male-dominated trucking industry within the ethnic-migrant and particularly Kiwi-Indian community.
A Facebook post with Unnati standing proudly in front of a large truck with overflowing confidence and sense of pride is not an ordinary image that many in our ethnic migrant communities get to see on a regular basis.
Clearly, leaving many regulars on social media gasping in awe and appreciation of Unnati’s drive to meander into the unknown world of being a heavy-truck driver in a new country.
In a conversation with the Indian Weekender, Unnati, a graduate in Political Science and Psychology from India narrates her journey from handling the car steering for the first time in 2002 to now becoming an award-winning truck driver in New Zealand.
Uni, as she is lovingly called by her colleagues, works as a Class 5 Truck driver with Chemcouriers, a freight company based in Auckland that transports packaged chemicals and dangerous goods across New Zealand.
Earlier in November 2020, Unnati was awarded Driver of the Year from her company Chemcouriers.
Unnati came to New Zealand as a migrant on a work visa in 2001 and worked in McDonald's initially before getting a Class 2 license to drive a bus in 2004.
However, two years later Unnati had to forego the job as family commitments grew, but that didn't sway her passion for driving and pursuing something more related to the same field of work.
Unnati took up a courier contract with Courier Post (DHL) and kept her feet on the peddle until the next big opportunity came her way.
After working over a decade as a courier driver, Unnati came across an opportunity to work for Chemcouriers (Mainfreight NZ) as a chemical transport driver on Class 2 and Class 4 trucks.
"I was appointed on a Class 2 truck, and the journey from there to class 5 was definitely not easy but with the guidance and right training provided to me brought the opportunity knocking the door in just three years," Unnati said.
Unnati adds that driving a truck is indeed a tough job and there is a huge responsibility when driving a truck and trailer, not just on the roads but also when stationery during loading and unloading.
"It is a challenging task to climb and get down as I am of an average height (5 ft 2 in), and the struggle is to reach on the back of the truck, which is long and high.
"I trained and invested in a 2-step little stool, and with the help of that, I can manage to do my job with a little struggle here and there.
"The trailers have side curtains which need to be opened and closed several times a day, and they are heavy too which takes a lot of strength to be operated," Unnati added.
She mentioned as a truck driver, she must have a license to operate the forklifts, learn loading and unloading procedures for different items, and each day at work is both challenging and exciting.
"There are different classes of chemicals which need to be loaded into the tankers, and then decanted at the destination. Some chemicals also come in special tanks and drums which have a separate SOP for pick-up and delivery," Unnati said.
Despite all the challenges that includes but is not limited to rainy days, hooking and unhooking a trailer, parking on side road etc. Unnati adds that it's an adventurous job and every day is different from yesterday.
On asked being the only Kiwi Indian female in the male-dominated industry, Unnati says, she has been welcomed by her company and colleagues with open hands and received training like everyone else.
"Uni, you are one of us', is what my colleagues say at work and they have always been supportive, and we work as a team," Unnati said.
It is her innate desire to see more Kiwi Indian women taking up driving as a career choice.
"Time is changing and with time our thinking is also changing, so let's change this stereotype that trucking is a male-dominated industry as women are equally suitable for these jobs," Unnati said.
“If women in our community believe in themselves, they can make strides in this industry as well, Unnati concluded.