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Should I become a wagon driver or not?

You may be wondering if becoming a lorry driver is a wise career move. There’s a lot of rumour and misinformation out there, and sorting out the wheat from the chaff can be a job in itself. Fortunately, this has already been done for you. In order to reach a decision on whether a career as a lorry driver is your best course of action, it’s crucial to consider the a few key factors.

Writing this article brings back memories of my first day behind the wheel as a learner. Starting the engine on that 18-tonne rigid was the beginning of what was to be a daunting experience. There was sweat like never before, tears like never before, and at one point during the training (changing lanes on the A1, to be precise) I realised I had developed a nervous twitch.

And the tough-guy attitude of my instructor, who for our purposes I shall name ‘Dave’, didn’t serve to ease my nerves.

There was some kerb-clipping, some lamppost-clipping, and, I’m ashamed to admit it, some car-clipping to boot.

A wet, freezing day in the middle of February saw me trying to reverse into a space that could only be described as two sizes too small for the wagon. In a crisis like this, Dave was no help.

As the week progressed, I began to realise I might do better with someone other than Dave in the passenger seat. To my surprise, the training school, which shall remain nameless, immediately passed me over to a different instructor (evidently, they were used to such requests).

My new instructor, who I shall call Bill, was the anti-Dave in many respects – not only was he not aggressive, and not loud, but he did not seem in any way concerned about whether I passed my test or not.

Despite these challenges, and, by the skin of my teeth, that Friday, I passed.

By the time I’d got my licence, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get a job behind the wheel at all, or if I wanted to pack it in and find something less stressful, like on an oil rig.

And the tough-guy attitude of my instructor, who for our purposes I shall name ‘Dave’, didn’t serve to ease my nerves.

I’m happy to say, however, that I stuck with it – happy, that is, because today I can look at how many doors wagon-driving has opened for me, and marvel at how something so inauspicious turned out to be the best career-move of my life.

After a few years on the road, I decided to get my C+E qualification. After some market research, I encountered North East Driving School. They were a fairly new start-up, – in fact, I’d never heard of them. But they were local, reasonably priced, and, considering my experience as a Category C learner, I knew only which provider I didn’t want to use.

Having spent five days with the NEDS instructors, training for and then passing my test, I was struck by the quality not only of the teaching, but of the people, too.

Compared to what I was used to, they were a different breed.

Rather than screaming at candidates, they encouraged mistakes, for it’s only through making mistakes that we learn. They were dedicated, patient and responsible – with them, every day was an education, it wasn’t just about passing the test.

Over the course of the artic training I realised I had a lot in common with my instructors, and that we shared a similar philosophy on the way new drivers should be educated.

Shortly thereafter, I asked to join the team and they said yes. Since then I have gained multiple new qualifications but that’s a different story.

From that point, there was no looking back. And it was only then that I realised the extent of the team’s dedication.

Our wagons are fitted with state-of-the-art recording devices; these enable us to film errors, which we can then use to demonstrate to you exactly how and why you went wrong. We explain where you made your mistake, let you watch it over again. And again.

We explain to you exactly where you should be looking on the approach to a roundabout, not just leaving you to guess. We explain how to demonstrate special awareness, lane positioning, and predict the behaviour of other motorists. Mistakes are part and parcel of the process – we encourage you to clip a kerb.

However, because one of the first things you’ll learn is the importance of using your mirrors correctly, you will find that kerb-clipping, post-clipping, and indeed car-clipping is a rare occurrence. In fact, I can count on one hand how many of my candidates have returned from a driving test having clipped a kerb… zero!

During your time with us, you will also given the opportunity to study for you CPC exams too: you won’t just be given a piece of A4 paper to read on the way to the exam (which, alas, is what happened with me). We give you real face-to-face time with your instructor, so that you can get all your questions answered, and calm your nerves before the exam.

 We have a saying at NEDS, ‘Anyone can pass a test. What we do here is train people to become safe, responsible, professional drivers.’ Trust me, there’s a difference. I suppose I need to give partial credit to ‘Angry Dave’ for this – I promised myself that as an LGV instructor I would never be like him. And I can say without fear of contradiction, we are better

So, to get back to the original question: is lorry driving right for you? Well, the advantages are numerous, and often overlooked.

It wasn’t until I became a lorry driver that I came to appreciate just how beautiful the Great British landscape is – my first trip to Wales, for example, was an eye-opening experience. It was summer, my window was down, the warm breeze flooded the cab as I wound my way along a coast road. Sheep and cattle dotted the hills, the fields, and the roads themselves. Nobody likes to be late for a drop, but when the reason you’re delayed is a flock of sheep blocking your way, herded by a farmer who smiles in apology, it reminds you that there is something else out there, beyond the clocking-in and clocking-out of the workaday world. It’s something that I will never forget. An old friend told me that driving a truck is a great way to see the world – and he was right.

If you’re like me, you want to find a job where you can lay down your roots. Now I’m only 28 years old, however I’m starting think about where my life will take me; I don’t want to have a CV five pages long listing a dozen or so employers by the time I’m 45. Of course, there are some stories out there about companies with high personnel turnaround, and indeed, you do get this kind of business in haulage, just like you get them in every other industry. But these companies are not the norm: most businesses look for someone they can train and mould; in haulage, a lorry driver is very often a long-term investment for a company. And that’s something you can get as a driver: job security.

And then there’s the money. When I opened my first pay-packet, my jaw dropped… 23 years old and making HOW MUCH? Of course, I worked hard for it, but with this pay slip and those that followed, I could afford a new car, a new flat, and a few more holidays per year. Surely that’s what we’re going to work for. To a young man, that money represented two things: opportunity, and security.

In logistics, there is something to be said for what you put in, you get out. Personally, I’ve witnessed a return on the investment. These days, lorry driving doesn’t have to be a one-stop career – it opens doors to other qualifications and lines of work you might not have previously considered. For example, after adding C+E to my licence, I went on to attain my HIAB qualification, and then I returned to the classroom to gain my Transport Manager qualification. I’ve friends and colleagues that, upon gaining their C+E, went on to drive car transporters; others gained their ADR qualification, and spent twenty years carrying hazardous goods.  A few of them even went a step further, and became qualified for DGSA – which, practically speaking, is a consulting advisor for businesses transporting hazardous goods.

In short: room for progression is endless.

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