Bill Mason describes his job as an HGV driver for a freight company.
What is your role?
I am a driver of HGVs (heavy goods vehicles) and have been doing this job for 12 years. I go to businesses, often factory premises, to pick up goods and deliver them to their customers. Sometimes this involves taking deliveries of goods from the customer’s business to our warehouse where we store these items for them until they are needed by their customers.
Contract hours are variable depending on the job, so start and finish times vary. Sometimes I have an early start at 4 a.m. and often have to stay away from home. I sleep in the van. There is a government working time directive for drivers. This means that we cannot work more than 15 hours a day. That includes all duties, not just driving. Drivers must have at least 9 hours' rest in any 24-hour period.
Although the company employs a lot of drivers, you can go for weeks without seeing any of the others because of the nature of the work.
I am also responsible for doing daily manual safety checks on the lights, tyres and general condition of the van. Any defects are reported to the office for action. I also clean the van.
I can sometimes be away all week and sleep 5 nights in the van. I sometimes have to work weekends.
What do you like about your job?
I enjoy the freedom of the work. Once you have your list of collections and pickups, you are able to decide your route and where and in what order you will travel.
Some of the deliveries or collections are timed to within an hour. I usually plan my route around these and fit in other deliveries as I want. As long as you get to the timed drops, you can start or finish when you want.
You are your own boss and you need to be happy working alone.
What’s not so great about it?
The traffic and the road conditions now are much worse than when I started as a driver. There are always repair works on the roads and motorways, which slow you down and make it harder to deliver than 12 years ago.
Taking holidays with this company is difficult as only 2 drivers can be on holiday at the same time. Most drivers have children and want to take the same time off.
There have been cutbacks on expenditure. For example, the drivers are not encouraged to stay overnight in motorway services because it can cost over £20 per night. I usually park overnight in a lay-by, which is free, but usually there aren’t any facilities.
How did you get to where you are?
I decided to have a change of career about 15 years ago. Before driving I was a yard manager for a car import company which was an office-based job.
I decided I wanted to be a driver and I paid to take my Class 2 test myself. I was able to get a job driving and that company then paid for me to take my Class 1 test after I had been working for them for eight months. This enabled me to drive 38-tonne trucks. A lot of companies will pay to put you through the tests.
It can be difficult to get into driving, as most job adverts will ask for 2 years’ experience. You can work for agencies doing part-time or full-time driving, perhaps doing more unpopular shifts at the weekends.
I had been working as a driver for a year when I got my current job, which was a better job and also more convenient.
What do you want to do next?
If I had to change occupation I think that I would prefer something practical using my hands such as a bathroom or kitchen fitter.
I am very happy doing what I do now.
I could take an ADR course, which would license me to drive tankers transporting liquids and chemicals. This is a very different form of driving, as the liquids move and behave differently to pallets stacked on a van. Tanker drivers can earn £45,000+ but it is very competitive to get into.
What advice would you give young people thinking of doing your job in the future?
You must be prepared to do the hours, sometimes starting early in the morning and finishing late at night. Be prepared to work away from home. If you want a 9–5 job, then driving is not for you. You must be prepared to start out with the worst shifts and vans if you are new to the work.
You need to be physically fit, for example to pull the van curtain on in the wind. There are some female drivers, but there are many more male drivers. Drivers must pass a medical every five years to keep their licence valid.
You can take your HGV licence now at 18, but I think it is better to get more driving experience before becoming a van driver. They say that there is a shortage of drivers, but I have seen many companies close in the last few years and so there must be a lot of experienced drivers looking for work.
You can go into the industry as a route planner or working in the office or in warehousing, for example driving a forklift truck.