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 more than 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 that is causing industry-wide concern. 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.”
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.
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.
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, the supply of drivers is a barometer of the state of the economy, while a driver shortage can constrain growth.
He says: “As soon as there is a bit of a downturn, 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 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 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 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.
Neil Robinson started 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 partnering with professional trainers is the best way of addressing the skills shortage at the front line of the logistics industry.
He says: “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.”
Logistics isn’t the only sector grappling with recruitment issues in the face of an ageing workforce.
Cumbrian businesses must recruit an estimated 80,300 workers by 2021 to replace those retiring or leaving, and to fill newly-created jobs.
That’s why the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub launched the Profiting Through Skills campaign to help businesses upskill their workforce and train a new generation of apprentices.
Free training is available to Cumbrian businesses with fewer than 250 staff (full time equivalent). The scheme covers a full range of business activities from manufacturing to hospitality, farming to retail, hairdressing to digital services.
To take advantage of the free training on offer, call Cumbria Business Growth Hub today on 0844 257 84 50.
A specialist adviser will carry out a review of your training needs and opportunities to identify where improved skills could help.
They pass the assessment to an experienced training provider, or providers, who contacts you to arrange training programmes funded through the scheme and elsewhere. Training is available for new and existing staff.
This support is available through the Employees Support in Skills project, launched last year. The project is funded by the European Social Fund via the Education & Skills Funding Agency and supported by Cumbria LEP.
Other partners in the project include Carlisle, Furness, Kendal and Lakes Colleges, the University of Cumbria, Newton Rigg, Gen2 and SP Training.
The Employee Support in Skills project is receiving up to £8.5m of funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) as part of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme in England. The Department for Work and Pensions is the Managing Authority for the England ESF programme. Established by the European Union ESF funds help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, skills development, job creation, social inclusion and local community regenerations. For more information click here.© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce