LONDON. The trainee moved towards an intersection for a seemingly impossible right-angle turn, and the 52-foot truck suddenly rumbled in an exact reflection of the driver’s nerves, or perhaps my own.
“It can be a little bumpy,” said driving instructor Andrew Howes, laughing.
In front of me in the driver’s seat – a rubber and foam throne with at least 30 centimeters of cushioning – sat a 36-year-old trainee, Felix Karikari, who once turned the steering wheel this month when his rush hour speed increased. through the streets of South London.
The training of new truck drivers has taken on a new urgency in the UK, where a supply chain crisis in recent weeks has shrouded the entire country in dismay as it approaches winter. Long lines lined up at gas stations, and in some parts of the country, supermarket shelves lacked staples such as milk and eggs. On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund highlighted the urgency of the problem globally with a report that said backups in supply chains could stifle economic recovery.
The problems have drawn attention to truck drivers in the country, a segment of the workforce that usually gets little attention. There simply won’t be enough to transport fuel and goods to keep retailers fully staffed.
Reduced wages, poor working conditions, tax changes for European drivers that made jobs in the UK less profitable, and a delay in driving tests caused by the coronavirus pandemic have all contributed to the exodus from the profession. New immigration restrictions due to Brexit have made it difficult to recruit drivers from the European Union.
The government is trying to lure drivers from the continent by offering 5,000 temporary visas, persuading people to pursue or return to the profession, and is offering to fund training for truck drivers and boot camps for thousands of people.
Many of these efforts have failed to attract drivers who have said goodbye to the profession forever. But for others, going on the road is a route to a regular paycheck and possibly a step towards a better life – if only they can navigate the curves.
Where beginner drivers study
The closed military barracks in South London is home to the National Driving Center, which has trained truck and bus drivers in the South East of England to obtain licenses for over 40 years.
Surrounded by a tank, vehicles painted in green and brown camouflage, and running cadets – the barracks are still operational – novice truck drivers here are not preparing for military service. They learn to drive trucks up to 52 feet in length in a 5-day hands-on course, which, depending on the size of the truck, costs between £ 1,515 and £ 1,700 (about $ 2,000).
The government-approved center, equipped with a fleet of 14 small and large trucks, trains about 20 truck drivers a week with the assistance of up to 10 instructors. Sessions take place in a parking lot where drivers practice reverse maneuvers, and on adjacent streets and highways where they will eventually be screened.
Before taking the practice test, truck drivers must first pass a medical examination and then pass the multiple-choice exam and hazard perception test. Drivers must then complete additional qualifications, before being allowed to drive on the road.
Trainer: Reaction time is critical
“Within a week, they have to be aware, exercise caution,” said Mr. Howes, 47, who has worked in the industry for 30 years after joining the British army as a truck driver. Mr. Howes, who has trained hundreds of trainees over the past seven years, believes in adapting them to the road conditions from the beginning.
“Starting from the first day, we take them out on the road, I indicate what will happen next, and they react to it,” he said.
“Most of these trucks will carry 20 to 30 tonnes on their backs,” added Mr. Hawes, pointing to the largest, 16-meter truck. “In your little car, you can barely reach a ton.”
Timely response is key, according to Mr. Howes. “It’s about good observation, good awareness, good understanding of the road, good forward planning,” he said, advising Mr. Karikari to brake early before he reached the line of cars. “It’s about learning to anticipate what’s going to happen.”
Inside the truck: drivers learn the technique
According to the Trucking Association, the average age of a British truck driver is around 55. But due to the vagaries of the pandemic economy and new incentives to attract more drivers, the profession is slowly gaining traction with young candidates from a wide variety of professions, Mr Howes said.
“We’ve noticed that careers have changed a lot,” he said. “I’m talking about airline pilots. We were even approached by a couple of lawyers. “
According to the transport association, the average driver’s salary, depending on the size of the truck, is £ 30,000-35,000, or approximately $ 41,000-47,000 per year.
Mr. Karikari, who moved to the UK from Ghana about 22 years ago, had been professionally driving a smaller truck for almost a year when he decided to take on the challenge of the largest truck.
“It’s a completely different way of reversing, it’s the hardest part,” said Mr Karikari, comparing the larger vehicle to the smaller trucks he’s used to.
“You need technology,” said Mr. Karikari. “You move a certain path to go to the left, you direct a certain path to go right, so you have to hammer that into your head.” Mr. Karikari looked carefully left and right, looking out of the truck’s windshield at the panorama of the road.
Mr Karikari said it wasn’t the difference in wages, which he described as insignificant, that prompted him to try a larger car. It was the lure of the road and the secluded nature of long journeys. “I like being alone, going far away and doing my own thing,” he said.
However, during this session, Mr. Karikari’s technique was insufficient. He didn’t pass, but said he plans to retake the practice exam on Saturday.
“I was nervous about the reverse,” said Mr. Karikari. “Nothing will stop me from getting a license, I know where I went wrong.”