We need drivers – I know that, you know that, we all in fact know that. Professional driving offers a genuine career with long-term prospects in a rapidly expanding industry. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
Well, here’s the problem – to many people, lorry driving has a certain image: brutal hours, uncomfortable sleeping accommodation, and inadequate facilities, all packaged together with the frayed twine of low pay.
We know though that there are a lot of different types of professional driver so this image is no longer accurate across the industry as a whole. Drivers may only be working between depots and satellite supermarkets, between transport hubs and depots, and the job therefore has more regular, sociable hours, allowing the driver to sleep at home, spend time with the family, and enjoy reasonable pay. Perhaps there’s a feeling then that the industry doesn’t need to make professional driving as a career more attractive – it’s a pretty good, stable job already.
However, long haul drivers are still needed, perhaps more in this world of increased demand for overnight or express deliveries. When Mr Jones in Swansea orders a torque converter from a factory in Berlin, he expects to be fitting it that week. If Mr Jones orders several hundred torque converters, trans-axle housings, and transmission yokes as he is the main garage supplier in South Wales, he still expects to receive them this week and the only way they are coming is by truck. There may therefore still need to be a driver who is away from home, working unsociable hours, missing out on a family life, sleeping in the cab, and generally making do with a tramping lifestyle.
The majority of new drivers don’t choose to join the brethren of the endless highway and instead opt for the more predictable, more comfortable, short haul driving. This leaves the industry dangerously exposed. The issue of the aging driver population is most keenly felt among the trampers.
“The job can be crushing on the drivers’ mental and physical well being and it is often very difficult to access front line medical services such as a GP or dentist,” one former driver said. “The driver feels out of touch and distant, not being there during a family problem or being unable to attend a family gathering or a child's nativity play.”
He continued that, “the job can be stressful, frustrating, boring, lonely, degrading and dangerous all at the same time. A lot of young people, including older family members who have done the job for years, think it should be consigned to the history books.”
So, the industry is left with a vital job that young people are not going to want to do. What is the solution?
So many aspects of the job need to be reviewed seriously by people who are prepared to make real changes – the pay, the hours, the facilities. But maybe a more fundamental change is one of attitude. These drivers are an essential part of the industry. It is a professional job carried out by professional people and yet drivers can feel degraded, ignored, cast aside, and forgotten. If we can gift the job with a new image of respect, if we can ensure drivers feel that they are treated as adult human beings rather than a driver number on a time sheet, if we can ensure that they aren’t pushed into a corner to sleep in a customer depot with poor or no facilities, the job recruits itself. After all, for all the negatives, there are so many positives.
“The plus side is that it is a challenging industry that can bring rewards in a job well done, completed on time, safely, and legally,” our former driver continues. “You might have the chance to see this fabulous country from top to bottom, the opportunity to visit eight countries in a week and experience the world we live in, and to get access to places and see things that no other job affords. You open your curtains each morning with a different view, from fabulous flatland vistas to the Alps. You know you are king of the road and part of a brotherhood who sometimes feels a bit sorry for everyone else just stuck in a dead end job or an office. You know that you are the best and you don’t feel the need to prove it, you just know!”
Old drivers echo these sentiments all the time. They tell amazing stories of fantastic adventures, some stories definitely not suitable for print here! The industry is extraordinary; the career prospects can be outstanding. We just need to put the work in to attract people back to it again.
Our former driver summarises it perfectly, “The job needs massive improvement, but it can be, on the odd occasion, the best job on earth.”
Let’s work together to make that true all of the time!