Manpower speaks to workingmums.co.uk about its Women in Logistics programme that aims to get more women into HGV driving by addressing some of the barriers.
The current shortage of HGV drivers has been front page news for weeks as have efforts to boost the numbers and address the estimated 100,000 vacancy rate. Currently just only 1% of HGV drivers are female. One organisation – Manpower – is trying to tackle some of the barriers to recruitment and to boost the number. In doing so, it is trying to modernise the industry.
Manpower’s core work lies in logistics recruitment. It has been operating a series of initiatives to address this, from its MyPath programme which aims to help warehouse staff upskill to HGV driver positions through its Driver Academy.
In April it launched its Women in Driving Scholarship and plans to put a cohort of carefully selected women through the Driver Academy programme. It currently has 15 women on the Women in Driving programme based in different parts of the country, with one having been sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions.
To recruit women to the programme, Manpower put out a call to female workers who have been registered on its database for at least three months. The women recruited had a category C licence and many had been working as drivers of vans or other smaller vehicles. One had been driving a horsebox. They were asked if they wanted to do a programme to become an HGV driver with Manpower then agreeing to find them a job after the programme. The training usually takes 12-16 weeks, but Covid has delayed this slightly with the current cohort expected to finish at different times up until January, unless they have to resit exams. Some have already been offered roles and potential employers are keeping tabs on their progress. Another cohort will start early next year.
The programme begins with a webinar highlighting the support Manpower provides, for instance, mentors, a guest speaker who worked her way up from driving to running her own logistics company, and information on career paths for drivers. Women on the programme, who have not met in person, join a whatsapp group where they can share experiences, get mutual support and feel that they are not alone. This is important because there is no dedicated group for women in the industry to help them counter the inevitable sexism that any women in male-dominated industries face.
The women who go on the programme have three main concerns, says Manpower. One is about sexism; the second is about their safety if they have to do overnight deliveries; and the third is about whether they are physically strong enough to do the job.
The programme aims to dispel some of these concerns. For instance, when it comes to safety, Manpower says women will never be on their own in the first three months. They will be partnered with an expert driver. If they are a Class 2 driver [Class 1 drivers do long haul deliveries] they will probably not have any overnight stays in the first two years. Deliveries are also planned and regimented so drivers know what to expect and will be taught about unloading processes. The average vehicles are not heavy, says Mick Skerrett, National Driver Development Manager, and there is equipment to help with unloading. “You don’t have to be six foot three and full of muscle,” he adds.
Another of the big barriers for people seeking to become HGV drivers is the training costs and Manpower’s programme aims to address this. Training can cost between £3K and £4.5K and if you don’t pass you may have to retake some of the exams and pay more. Those licensed to drive a 7.5 tonne vehicle, such as a horsebox, including people who got their car driving licence before 1997 when the rules changed, will be able to jump some of the steps.
There are several elements involved in training, from a medical test to theory tests, practical training and Show & Tell training.
On the plus side, Manpower says driving can be a flexible career which can be done around family life, for instance, on a shift, temporary or part-time basis. “The contracts do need to change and some of our European partners have developed part-time contracts more than us in the past, but that is happening very quickly now because of the current situation,” says Skerrett.
The wages are increasing due to the driver shortage and employers are increasingly aware of the need to improve conditions, such as the quality of roadside facilities, and are investing in the kind of changes they – rather than the Government – are able to make. Skerrett thinks the UK needs something equivalent to the European scheme on standardisation of facilities to make a real difference. He adds that conditions and security are issues for all drivers and that there is a recognition from employers of the need to invest more in people rather than focusing on keeping costs – and inflation – down.
Manpower says the first cohort of women has been a learning experience and the organisation will incorporate some of their findings for the next cohort, for instance, doing more in the early stages of the programme to explain the support they are providing and what it is like to work in the industry and in different sectors.
The women who complete the programme will be invited to tell their stories to encourage other women. The aim is to open up access, give women entry to an increasingly well paid job and move the industry forward.
*If you are interested in taking part in the programme, you can register your interest on the Manpower site.