Jim French 2

PD Ports director Jim French has been awarded an MBE for services to young people in the transport industry in the Queen’s birthday honours.

The semi-retired, former RHA chairman said receiving the honour “feels tremendous”, and added that he could not have achieved it without the support of people around him during his career of more than 40 years.

He told MT: “During the whole of my career I’ve had a lot of support from other people. In terms of people that I’ve worked for, and also the support from the RHA in terms of enabling me to get involved with things like Think Logistics.

“And, particularly in the last two or three years, PD Ports has been very supportive in letting me have the time to do things.”

That support is notable, he said, because in an SME-heavy industry many businesses are unable to find the time and resource to bringing young people on board.

“Lots of people running transport businesses don’t always have the time to devote to a long term issue like trying to attract young people,” he said.

“With the margins that you make in this industry, many businesses struggle then to pay 25 people a salary, let alone an apprentice driver because they won’t get any revenue until they’ve qualified. So we need to still to more with the government to attract more to the sector to address the driver shortage issue.”

French said he’s “always had a passion for developing people all the way through their career, and the way you can make yourself a success is by developing the people you’ve got around you”.

But he said over the last five years, he has been able to dedicate much more time to recruitment and engagement with young employees.

Young talent

Notably, PD Ports has been running a logistics academy at local Stockton Riverside College, with Career Ready and Think Logistics, for three years, which engages 15 students with the sector through

As part of the course the students are taken to visit a range of transport and logistics businesses, which French said is crucial to demonstrate the tapestry of jobs and markets within the sector.

One former mentee of French's, Alice Briggs (pictured below), graduated from the Stockton Riverside logistics academy and got a job as an engineering apprentice in Billington.

One of the students enrolled on the programme last year spent four weeks working at PD Ports during the summer holidays.

During her internship Emily Clark spent time with the engineering department, and French said its director was so impressed with her work he wanted to offer her a job.

Jim and Alice

French with former mentee Alice Briggs

“She was also interested in going to university full time to do a degree”, French told MT. “But in the end we came to the conclusion that PD Ports offered her a job and along with that sponsoring her to do a degree in engineering at Teesside University.”

Another student from the course joined PD Ports as a warehouse apprentice, and French said he was keen to impress the benefits of engagement with programmes like Career Ready and Think Logistics on other operators.

“That’s one of the messages I want to try and get to employers – it’s not that big an investment to take on a student for four weeks over the summer. And yes it gives them great insight into work, but it also gives you the opportunity to look at someone, and an opportunity to take them on permanently.”

Looking ahead

Although he’s 67, French said he intends to continue his engagement with Career Ready and the logistics academy at Stockton Riverside College for the foreseeable future.

He also has another 12 months to serve on the board of the RHA, as former chair people are required to remain a part of it for two years after they step down.

The RHA congratulated French on his MBE.

Chief executive Richard Burnett said: “We’re absolutely delighted for Jim and this MBE is very well deserved given his commitment and energy in trying to attract the next generation into the road haulage industry.

“Jim has helped to overcome some of the negative perceptions young people have about the sector and this has had a significant impact among a younger generation who may now consider opportunities in an industry that’s suffering from a chronic staff shortage.”