Two women tanker drivers are bucking the trend in a male-dominated industry, achieving distinctions in their Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) Driver apprenticeship with water supply, treatment and waste disposal company Severn Trent.
Molly Fox and Catherine Bradley joined Severn Trent’s first LGV tanker driver apprenticeship scheme last year and, despite the logistical challenges and public health restrictions put in place to manage the Covid-19 lockdown, both have passed their practical Category C driving tests while gaining valuable on-the-job experience.
Women make up just two per cent of all large goods vehicle drivers in the UK, and Severn Trent has been quick to recognise that the female workforce is a massively untapped resource.
With an ageing workforce and significant driver shortages, drawing from the widest possible pool of talent will be crucial for the logistics industry as it seeks to recover from the pandemic and prepare for the conclusion of EU trade talks at the end of the transition period.
Nikki Bardsley, Director of Apprenticeship Operations at skills specialist Seetec Outsource, which delivered the programme, believes businesses should consider the clear benefits of recruiting more learners onto a driver apprenticeship.
She said: “Certainty at the end of the EU transition period and the ongoing impact of COVID-19 are at the forefront of the UK logistics sector’s mind. There is concern that the acute shortage of qualified drivers in the sector could be further compounded by the evolving external landscape.
“Businesses can develop talent through the Level 2 LGV driver apprenticeship standard, which can be funded by accessing the apprenticeship levy or Government co-investment.
“Molly and Catherine are important trailblazers who will inspire other women to follow in their footsteps.”
With unemployment reaching its largest level of annual increase since the 2009 financial crisis, and young people disproportionately affected, the LGV driver apprenticeships can offer a new career opportunity.
Catherine Bradley had held a variety of different roles in healthcare and hospitality before switching to a driving career. She wasn’t concerned about gender stereotypes, but the cost of funding the Category C licence herself had proved to be a barrier.
The apprenticeship at Severn Trent combined licence acquisition training with the chance to gain on-the-job experience. Catherine said: “I’ve had the opportunity to fast-track my career and having gone straight into tanker driving – which requires even more knowledge and awareness than general haulage – I’m more confident than ever that I can take on any driving challenge that comes my way in the future.
“The team at Severn Trent have been so supportive and will be funding training for me to gain my Cat C+E licence so I can tow heavier trailers and drive articulated vehicles for the company.”
Simon Fairhurst, Interworks Tanker Fleet Manager for Staffordshire, Shropshire and Mid Wales, said: “Catherine has quickly learned the ropes and become a skilled tanker driver as well as a valuable member of the team.
“The apprenticeship is a great way to bring new talent into the business and is open to anyone with a passion for driving, regardless of age or gender. The combination of on- and off-the-job training means apprentices are soon able to start working independently, so it doesn’t take long to see the impact of the programme on business operations.”
Molly Fox was aged just 19 at the start of her training. She said: “Becoming an HGV driver was a natural career choice for me. There is always a strong sense of independence when you’re out on the open road.
“This is a role where I can really add value. At Severn Trent, we transport tanker sludge bio product, which is a valuable resource, so I feel as though I’m playing my part in protecting the environment while helping to generate revenue for the business.”
Molly has taken every opportunity to further her knowledge and skills. She passed her LGV theory and Category C practical test within ten months, despite having to step down from LGV training for 12 weeks during the COVID-19 lockdown.
She used the time to successfully complete her apprenticeship assignments and e-learning modules, while providing remote team support to the company’s key workers.
Nigel Stretton, Interworks Tanker Fleet Manager for the North, covering Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire & South Yorkshire, said: “Molly has taken every opportunity to develop professionally, build a wider knowledge base, understand all parts of the organisation and her industry.
“She has spent time in other areas of the business such as energy and renewables, planning and scheduling, wholesale and waste water management.
“Molly has also built an impressive network with other employees and has shown leadership by setting up an online engagement group with all 20 new apprentices at Severn Trent – including those outside the logistics department – so they could share their experiences. She is an asset to the company and has a bright future ahead of her.”