Forming a partnership with a specialist training provider is helping Cumbria’s logistics sector overcome its HGV skills crisis.
With their distinctive blue and gold livery, Tyson H Burridge wagons have been a familiar sight on our roads for over 50 years. The company specialises in general haulage and hazardous waste transportation, with a 30-strong fleet based in Distington, near Whitehaven. But like all logistics companies, Burridge is facing a major challenge in the form of driver recruitment.
Nationally it is estimated that the shortfall in skilled HGV drivers is around 45,000 – a figure which is causing industry-wide concern. In 2017 the average age of the UK’s 200,000 qualified drivers is 55.
“It’s a major problem, as a company we have lost around 20 per cent of our workforce in recent years and the next generation just aren’t coming through,” says Burridge Director Neil Robinson.
“We are fortunate in that we have a lot of loyal, local drivers, but a lot of longstanding employees have retired over the last five to 10 years and it has been difficult to replace those people.
“However, there are big upsides to the job including a large degree of autonomy, good pay and promotion prospects.”
Burridge is a founder member of the Cumbria Transport Group (CTG), which is made up of leading transport firms including Stobart Group, Wm Armstrong, and AW Jenkinsons. Together they are taking a proactive role in tackling the problem, including a partnership with Carlisle-based driver training company SP Training to recruit and supply a new crop of apprentice drivers.
The shortfall in skilled HGV drivers is estimated to be around 45,000 nationally – a figure which is causing industry-wide concern. In 2017 the average age of the UK’s 200,000 qualified drivers is 55.
SP Training was set up in June 2016 by Robin Brown and Tony Higgins. The pair previously ran System Training, which became the largest logistics training provider in the UK prior to its sale to Bibby Distribution in 2012.
According to managing director Tony, a driver shortage is indicative of a growing economy but can also restrict the speed of growth of an economy both locally and nationally.
“As soon as there is a bit of a downturn, we lose all the drivers, or a lot of the drivers are laid off. As soon as there is a bit of an upturn, we are one of the first sectors to need more people, and we need them more quickly.
“There is a lot of legislation in recent years that has also thinned the market out a little bit; people find it less attractive or existing drivers have left the business because there is more onus on them to develop skills and training that perhaps, because of age profile, they don’t want to do.”
SP Training’s first move was to approach Burridge and other members of the CTG and ask them to come up with a curriculum based on the skills a new driver entering the market would need.
“Our ethos is that we try and approach it like a partnership,” Tony says. “The training we deliver is based on business need – so it’s not what we have got, it’s about what training courses you want to do, what you need to grow your business, what you need to improve your business, and if something doesn’t exist then we will create it.
“It is based on real need instead of what is on the shelf, which is, I think, what a lot of training providers approach employers with.”
The training we deliver is based on business need – so it’s not what we have got, it’s about what training courses would be suitable and what you need to grow your business.
Tony Higgins, Managing Director, SP Training
The resulting apprenticeship programme enables Tony and his team to train people quickly and efficiently.
“The requirements are quite wide-ranging,” he says. “Depending on the vehicle they need the correct licences; but they also need training on how to deal with customers and colleagues, route planning skills, and time management skills. And there is a lot of technology in cabs now, so they need to understand how that works and how they can use that to the best benefit of driving a vehicle more efficiently.”
Enticing potential drivers into the apprentice scheme is also a major consideration, although with no age limit on recruits there is plenty of opportunity. It can be a rewarding and fulfilling career for people looking for career move from other sectors.
“A lot of people are looking for a career change; for instance, a lot of our recruits come from home delivery networks where they are used to working shifts, and negotiating their own network.
And there is a career structure in logistics; you can go to the higher end of management if that is what you want; by entering as a driver, which is the traditional route.”
Neil Robinson himself started off with Tyson H Burridge in 1983 as an apprentice mechanic, before qualifying as a driver, then working his way up from warehouse supervisor to fleet engineer. He is a firm believer that by partnering with professional trainers is the best way of addressing the skills shortage at the front line of the logistics industry.
“I see training as an investment, not a cost and it is something we should be doing because it increases staff morale. SP Training has built an excellent team; you know that you are dealing with an expert in the field.
All their trainers have actually been out in the field and done the job. I see them as an extension of our business.”
SP Training has built an excellent team; you know that you are dealing with an expert in the field. I see them as an extension of our business.