Female HGV driver apprentices

Water and waste water services company Severn Trent is working in partnership with Seetec Outsource to train its next generation of tanker drivers, and has benefitted from strong female representation among its first cohort of apprentices.

Women only make up around 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, it will be crucial for the logistics industry to attract and retain younger drivers, drawing from the widest possible pool of talent.

In August 2019, Severn Trent launched its first HGV tanker driver apprenticeship scheme to support succession planning and build workforce capacity. Of the five new apprentices recruited onto the programme, two were aspiring female HGV drivers, keen to dispel the stereotype that driving tankers is an occupation better suited to the opposite sex. Both have gone on to complete the programme with a distinction, and have proved themselves to be valuable additions to the team.

Challenging stereotypes

Molly Fox was the youngest of the two female tanker driver apprentices, aged just 19 years old at the start of her training. She said:

“For me, becoming an HGV driver was a natural career choice. I love being on the open road where I feel that I can be my own boss. I also think it’s important to be in a role where I can 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 fully embraced her apprenticeship programme, taking every opportunity to further her knowledge and skills. She passed her HGV theory and Category C practical driving test within the first 10 months, despite having to step down from HGV training for a period of 12 weeks during the COVID-19 lockdown as fleet vehicles could not be shared. Molly used this 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, has been impressed by Molly’s commitment and determination while on programme. He said:

“Molly has taken every opportunity to develop professionally and build her knowledge and understanding of the organisation and the industry in which we operate. She has spent time in other areas of the business such as energy and renewables, planning and scheduling and wholesale waste water production.

“She has also built an impressive network with other employees across the business, 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 that they could share their experiences with one another. She is an asset to the company and has a very bright future ahead of her.”

Benefits of the apprenticeship routeway

Catherine Bradley held a variety of different roles within healthcare and hospitality before deciding to pursue a driving career. She wasn’t concerned about the gender stereotypes associated with driving large goods vehicles, however the cost of funding the Category C licence herself had proved to be a barrier. Even with a licence it would have been difficult to secure employment without relevant work experience.

The apprenticeship at Severn Trent not only included licence acquisition training for Category C vehicles – it also enabled Catherine to gain valuable on-the-job experience. Commenting on the benefits of the apprenticeship, 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 confident that I can take on any driving job in future. The team at Severn Trent have been so supportive, and will be funding training for me to gain my Cat C+E licence over the coming months. This means I can tow heavier trailers and drive articulated vehicles for the company as well.”

Simon Fairhurst, Interworks Tanker Fleet Manager for Staffordshire, Shropshire and Mid Wales, believes that the apprenticeship programme has brought benefits not only to the learners but to the business as well. He 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 that apprentices are soon able to start working independently, so it doesn’t take long to see the impact of the programme on business operations.”

Addressing the UK driver shortage

Nikki Bardsley, Director of Apprenticeship Operations at Seetec Outsource, encourages any businesses struggling to fill driving vacancies to consider recruiting learners onto an apprenticeship. She said:

“EU trade talks and the ongoing impact of COVID-19 are at the forefront of the UK logistics sector’s mind as there is a shortage of qualified drivers that could be further compounded by the evolving external landscape. Businesses can address this issue by recruiting new drivers from a wider range of backgrounds, developing talent through the level 2 LGV driver apprenticeship standard, which can be funded via the apprenticeship levy or Government co-investment.

“Our first cohort of apprentices at Severn Trent have all achieved distinctions, and Molly and Catherine have proved that they are every bit as talented as their male counterparts on the apprenticeship programme. Hopefully they can inspire other women who are considering a career in driving to follow in their footsteps.”

For more information about the level 2 LGV driver apprenticeship please visit our dedicated programme page.