Mantra driver training

The HGV driver training ‘bootcamps’ launched last year with £34m of government funding have got off to a flying start, according to Mark Currie, CEO of the National Logistics Academy (NLA) and Manchester training firm Mantra Learning.

The target for the 200 16-week bootcamps is to bring around 11,000 HGV drivers into the industry, both by attracting existing licence holders back into driving and funding training and testing for new entrants. The scheme runs until November 2022 and is being delivered by 17 training providers across the UK including Mantra.

“The response has been unbelievable,” Currie told MT. “We have had 5,374 expressions of interest already. We have an automated process to find out what people are looking for and what they want to do. Most people want to go straight from a car to a C+E licence – who wouldn’t want that, fully funded by the government? – and there are a good number of existing drivers who want to go from C to C+E.”

Currie added that vast majority of people expressing an interest in the bootcamps have been referred by the National Careers Service and Mantra has plans to market the scheme to 35,000 former drivers to boost numbers of returning drivers.

The Driver Academy Group, a consortium of HGV training company HGVC, Manpower and Logistics UK, is urging candidates to apply to get on to the scheme, warning that "places are expected to fill up soon".  The consortium has received more than 6,200 applications for its HGV driver training schemes and has already offered contracts to hundreds of trainees.

One barrier to training new drivers has been the backlog of candidates that built up when the DVSA stopped testing due to Covid-19. As a result the industry lost around 45,000 new drivers last year and Currie said the problem was far from being resolved.

“We still haven’t had the increase in test slots to meet what we need,” he said. “It is going to be a blockage and we really need the military to come in and help out. There has been a tender put out for training providers to train 175 car driving examiners to become HGV testers. I don’t understand how they can test somebody if they haven’t had their HGV licence for three years.

“Most of us need a doubling in test capacity.”

The pandemic has also led to a shortage of HGV driving instructors and articulated vehicles.

“You can’t buy a truck right now and it has become very attractive for instructors to go and become drivers,” Currie said. “There is clearly a lot of enthusiasm among the public to become drivers and we have funding for something like 1,200 new drivers.

“If out of the 5,374 expressions of interest we end up with 500 people successfully getting a job as a truck driver we are over a third of the way to our annual target. The run rate at the moment is 150 to 200 expressions of interest a day and with a limited budget we want to make this money translate into licences for people who really want to become a truck driver rather than sign everyone on who just fancies it or wants to drive their horsebox.”

A key condition of receiving bootcamp funding was to have strong links with employers able to offer new or returning drivers experience behind the wheel and then a full time job. Currie said he has 3,000 vacancies with 50 “really good companies” for drivers.

“Before we take anyone onto the programme they have an interview with an end point employer, who then effectively becomes their sponsor with the offer of a job conditional on getting their licence,” he said. “We introduce them early in the process and each employer will treat each individual differently. One big employer we work with sends novice drivers out with an experienced driver or assessor for at least two weeks once they get their licence.”