Delivery drivers and warehouse operatives at the Mansfield branch of leading distribution company, Bunzl Catering Supplies (BCS), are on the road to career success.
This comes after West Nottinghamshire College joined forces with BCS to run a tailor-made training scheme that is equipping staff at the nationwide firm with the skills and qualifications to become “elite drivers”.
Launched earlier this month (April 2019), the BCS Driver Academy scheme has been devised to offer career progression opportunities to the existing BCS workforce while also tackling a national shortage of drivers in the haulage industry.
It will see participants work towards a Level 2 apprenticeship in either Supply Chain Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) Driver or Express Delivery Operative, which form part of new apprenticeship standards designed by employers in the logistics and supply chain sector.
Over the next 12 months they will receive on and off-the-job training by tutors and assessors from the college’s employer-training arm, Vision Business, to develop core occupational competencies including driving skills, industry expertise, and knowledge of regulation, compliance, products, systems and processes.
Through a range of learning activities including mandatory workshops, they will learn about safe, controlled and fuel-efficient driving techniques and preparation, as well as the performance skills, knowledge and behaviours to be professional workers in their field.
Meanwhile, those without GCSE English or maths will also complete Functional Skills training to gain a recognised qualification in these subjects.
An initial cohort of 11 staff hand-picked by BCS have joined the driver academy; each on the Level 2 Supply Chain LGV Driver apprenticeship standard. These include a mix of drivers who wish to upgrade their skills to a more advanced vehicle size, and warehouse staff who want to become full-time LGV drivers.
Three of the participants are based at the company’s Mansfield branch, in Orchard Way, off King’s Mill Road West, Sutton-in-Ashfield, which is also the host venue for all the academy’s one-day training workshops and practical sessions. The remaining staff work at branches in Manchester, Basingstoke, Harlow (Essex), Charlton (London) and Bristol.
The scheme offers participants different entry points, depending on their skills and experience.
Those with no previous commercial driving experience will be brought onto the Express Delivery Operative standard and commence driving a 3.5-tonne van.
Current commercial van drivers will be able to begin the LGV standard and work towards a Category C1 licence, to driver class 3, in order to operate a 7.5-tonne lorry.
Existing Category C1 drivers with previous experience will also commence the LGV Level 2 apprenticeship, with a chance to gain the Category C licence to drive a class 2 vehicle; enabling them to drive one of the firm’s 18-tonne lorries.
Through the programme, which is being funded by Bunzl’s contribution to the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy, the firm will also meet the cost of each apprentices’ LGV driving licence.
Upon successful completion, candidates will have the chance to undertake an apprenticeship in other job roles, including team-leader and operations manager, should they wish to move into a different area of the business.
Going forward, BCS – leading supplier of catering disposables, food packaging and hygiene supplies to the catering and hospitality sector – plans to offer the fully-funded course to up to 10 selected employees across its nine UK branches each year, before eventually opening it up to new recruits, including young college-leavers.
It is estimated the UK haulage industry is facing a shortage of 45,000-50,000 heavy goods vehicle drivers and, as a major distribution business, BCS is keen to meet the challenge head-on.
Richard Gray, HR manager at Bunzl Catering and Hospitality Division, said: “We noticed that the recruitment of drivers at BCS was becoming increasingly difficult year-on-year. We have seen a decline in the number of people seeing commercial driving as a good career choice, so we decided to create the Driver Academy scheme with the help of Vision Business.
“A fully-funded programme providing a clear career path for warehouse and driver colleagues, the Driver Academy scheme will help us address the national shortage of drivers within our industry.”
Phil Haskew, national transport manager at BCS, said: “The Driver Academy scheme is the culmination of 18 months’ work with the college, devising a tailor-made programme to give our staff an opportunity to develop and progress in their roles.
“However, it’s also about attracting people outside of our business who maybe haven’t considered commercial driving as an occupation before. There’s a national shortage of vocational drivers in the UK and the situation is getting progressively worse. Unfortunately, driving is not always seen as a career choice nowadays. Consequently, we’re trying to promote the fact you can enjoy a very rewarding livelihood within this industry.
“One of the main barriers is the cost of gaining your category driving licenses, which can be anything up to £2,000. Bunzl Catering Supplies wants to remove this financial burden from those who do see commercial driving as a career choice but have been put off by that initial outlay and help them progress to become elite drivers for our business.”
According to Mr Haskew, BCS is one of very few businesses that currently offer the Supply Chain LGV Driver and Express Delivery Operative Level 2 apprenticeship standards, which have been designed by industry leaders.
He added: “The apprenticeship route is absolutely right for our business. It provides a really structured way of learning and makes sure we’re training people in the right way. We’re hoping our Driver Academy scheme will be an industry-leading programme that will eventually become the sector norm.”
Apprentices said they were “excited” to be part of the scheme and looked forward to returning to formal learning.
John Bowers, 38, from Sutton-in-Ashfield, works as a warehouse operative and forklift truck driver at the Mansfield branch.
He said: “I passed my driving test a year ago and now want to become a full-time delivery driver with Bunzl Catering Supplies. It will enable me to go out on the road and deal with customers, which is something I see myself doing.
“I’ve worked here 17 years and I’m hoping to carry on being here for the foreseeable future. I’m really excited about this opportunity.”
Peter Jenner, who currently drives a 7.5-tonne vehicle, said the course would enable him to advance to the next vehicle size.
The 45-year-old, from Alvaston, Derby, said: “The apprenticeship will move me up to the class 2 category so that I can drive an 18-tonne truck, which will be something extra on my licence.
“Doing this course will also help me become a better driver, which will benefit me and the company. You’re never too old to acquire new skills. It’s good to be learning again.”
Nick Maidment, manager of retail, business and management at West Nottinghamshire College, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Bunzl Catering Supplies to deliver this bespoke training and help the company build a new generation of professional drivers. The standard of driving required for these individuals to do their jobs effectively is far above what they’d need to pass a regular driving test. These apprenticeships will further boost their skills and take them to the next level, which is great for them and their employer.”