Host John Bishop; Samworth Brothers Supply Chain national driver academy manager Mark Taylor and team; Steve Agg, chairman of the Governance and Standards Advisory Group, Fors (second right), and MT editor Steve Hobson

Samworth Brothers Supply Chain recognised the industry-wide driver shortage wasn’t

going to be solved anytime soon, so found the perfect antidote with its Driver Academy

For Samworth Brothers Supply Chain, the challenge of ensuring the business met Driver CPC regulations by the industry-wide deadline of September 2014 sparked a change in the company’s training strategy.

While it had always provided driver training for its workforce on an informal basis, the

business took the decision in 2014 to go above and beyond its legal Driver CPC requirements,

and instead upskill its workforce to boost driver performance, safety and fuel-efficiency.

To achieve this aim, it formed a Driver Academy training division. National academy manager Mark Taylor said: “We did lots of work in the academy’s early days to improve the standards of our existing drivers. The concept of the academy started to grow.”

Samworth Brothers Supply Chain realised the challenge facing the industry – a shortage of up to 60,000 drivers – would only become more acute unless action was taken to attract

talent into the job. At this time, 72% of the company’s drivers were aged over 45. “It became evident to us that our drivers were getting older, “ said Taylor. “We had lots over 50, only a few under 40

and some over 60. We were losing about 20 a year through retirement and people leaving

the industry. This was worrying as we had a workforce of 220.”

New drivers

In 2015, the business started to devise a strategy to recruit new drivers. However, attracting the right calibre of driver remained challenging, so Samworth Brothers instead shifted its focus to recruiting additional experienced drivers. Working with an agency, it started to bring young drivers into the business, with permanent contracts awarded following nine months’ satisfactory work on the agency’s books.

“This worked reasonably well and we had a number of people come through this

programme,” said Taylor. “But given the crisis the industry was facing, we decided to create

an academy that would bring new talent into the business and potentially be an entity in its

own right – perhaps winning business on the merits of its training.”

Taylor was recruited in April 2016 to lead the transition, with a remit to bring in 24 new drivers. The company ceased its agency partnerships and instead developed in house a number of routes for both existing Samworth Brothers employees and external candidates.

Four routes of entry are available through the academy – Warehouse to Wheels, Car to

Lorry, Bakery to Wheels and the Newly Qualified Driver Programme. External entry Car to Lorry recruitment offers external candidates with a clean car driving licence the opportunity to train to become an HGV driver, fully funded by Samworth Brothers.


The scheme was incredibly popular. A huge number of applicants had to be sifted through

and interviewed, to pick those with the passion and aptitude for the role. New entrants to the academy spend three months in the traffic office or warehouse environment to get a feel for how the business works and for Samworth Brothers to assess a student’s work ethic and reliability.

Once this phase has been completed, students move to the licence acquisition training programme to obtain their full HGV qualification, including six compulsory tests to pass, such as Class C and Class C+E practical driving tests.

This typically takes around three months to complete, says Taylor, before students move on to a post-licence acquisition training and mentoring programme to build up their skills. Once this stage has been completed, with a driver assessment, students are allowed out on real jobs via the company’s green runs – dedicated easy runs for new drivers.

“We test them in a big DC where there’s lots of room to make a fool of yourself and try to get on to the bay; it’s a rite of passage for all new drivers,” said Taylor. “Then we reassess them at four, eight and

12 weeks and at the end of this period they graduate from the academy and we upgrade the runs to amber or red, the latter being the most awkward places.”

Training AwardSamworth Brothers

Warehouse to Wheels and Bakery to Wheels are both internal routes to entering a driving career for existing Samworth Brothers staff. While the training process is much the same as Car to Lorry, the initial three-month probationary period is not necessary and the candidates move straight to their licence acquisition training once the required tests and Driver CPC have been passed.

Employees remain in their business divisions and are released from work for training when required. Once they have obtained their licences, they transfer across to Samworth Brothers Supply Chain.

The fourth route to entry is the Newly Qualified Driver Programme, which allows novice drivers to work through a post-licence acquisition induction, training and mentoring programme in line with the other schemes.

Since the new training programmes began in April 2016, 59 drivers have been brought through the academy from all four routes of entry. “As a consequence, our drivers’ age profile has got younger,” said Taylor. “But we also take older drivers. One of our Car to Lorry drivers was 50.”

Raised premiums?

Despite younger drivers coming on to the workforce, the company has had no issues with raised premiums from its insurance company. Taylor believes “sensible dialogue” is the key, with Samworth Brothers keeping the insurance firm in the loop throughout the process of

creating its academy.

“We keep them informed of the number of inexperienced drivers that come through and it has been reasonably comfortable with the levels we are bringing through,” said Taylor.

The company has seen no increase in damage claims since the new drivers have come on board. In fact, the company-wide focus on driver training has helped reduce accident rates

across the board, improve performance and slash CO2 emissions.

The company has been awarded the top ECO Stars five-star rating for ensuring its drivers and fleet are running as efficiently as possible to mitigate their environmental impact. External verification of the success of the firm’s training strategy has also come from recognition of individual drivers by industry.

Samworth Brothers Supply Chain has scooped top accolades from both Microlise and the FTA for driver performance.

“We’re being recognised for what we’ve done, not least the MT Awards, which was a big achievement as far as the business is concerned,” said Taylor. “We’ve got to be doing something right. It was brilliant to be recognised because we have been brave over the past 18 months in particular and its good that industry sees this as a positive contribution.”

Where next?

“What do we want to do next year and beyond?” asked Taylor. He would like to see another 50 drivers recruited and trained in the next 12 months and he will be exploring how the Apprenticeship Levy can play a role in this.

Offering its 10 JAUPT-approved Driver CPC courses to external drivers is under consideration for the next year, said Taylor. “The past two years we’ve focused internally and I wanted to develop our CPC trainers. Our JAUPT audit was extremely good and we now have the confidence and capability to offer it externally.”


Samworth Brothers has evolved from a one-man pig dealer founded by George Samworth in 1896 to a chilled and ambient food group with more than 8,500 employees. A total of 19 different companies combine to make up the family business, with Samworth Brothers Supply Chain the only non-food division in the group. The company makes fresh foods from Soreen fruit loaf through to Ginsters sausage rolls and, of course, its famous authentic Melton Mowbray pork pies – it produces 85% of those consumed in the UK. Now a fourth-generation family business, it is headed by Mark Samworth.

The Samworth Brothers Supply Chain division was founded in 1998 as the distribution arm of the food operation. Now a £50m-plus operation, it employs 500 staff in driving roles, warehouse and

office functions. The business operates out of four chilled distribution sites in Leicester, Penrith, Callington and Bristol, transporting fresh goods in a same-day operation, and prides itself on its 97% on-time deliveries. While it undertakes a small amount of third-party work, this is mostly to drive fleet efficiencies on return legs or provide value to its customers and suppliers.