My career is in the fast lane: What it’s really like to be a HGV driver for M&S
With new HGV drivers set to receive a £2k sign-on bonus, we explore what life on the road is really like.
Becoming a HGV driver has enabled 33-year-old Luke Caswell to press the accelerator on his career. He started working as a warehouse operative at M&S’s logistics partner Gist in 2014. Keen to pursue his love of driving and gain valuable new skills, he changed lanes and embarked on the company’s internal Warehouse to Wheels scheme.
The programme develops warehouse workers into fully qualified drivers, allowing Gist to build a pipeline of driving talent and retain committed colleagues.
Luke now travels the length and breadth of the UK, transporting fantastic M&S products from depots to stores around the country and helping keep shelves stocked. Drivers like Luke are central to M&S’s logistics, ensuring operations run smoothly and that customers can always find their favourite foods – from homegrown fresh strawberries to Percy Pig sweets – at over 1,000 stores across the UK.
Skills like Luke’s, however, are in hot demand. A perfect storm of factors, including the impact of Brexit and drivers having to self-isolate as a result of the pandemic, have contributed to a national shortage of drivers and meant opportunities abound for skilled drivers.
New drivers joining Gist from August can earn up to £5,000 in incentives through a combination of a market leading £2,000 sign-on bonus and up to three additional retention payments. Warehouse operatives taking part in Gist’s Warehouse to Wheels scheme have the cost of their training covered. Drivers can also benefit from discounts and a generous pension.
Working as a HGV driver may not seem an obvious career route for twenty-somethings – with pre-conceptions of long-hours and high cost of training holding some young people back from the sector. Luke’s experience has been quite different.
“It was something I’d wanted to do for a long time,” Luke says. “My uncle drove a lorry for more than 30 years and he had a great career, so I was lucky to see the first-hand reality of the role.”
Luke started on the Warehouse to Wheels scheme in 2018 and gained his Class 2 licence. He took his Class 1 test the following year, which allows him to drive larger articulated lorries [up to 44 tonnes].
“I wanted a new challenge and I wanted to see the other side of logistics,” he says. “Getting my licence wasn’t easy, but if you put your mind to it, you can do it. I love driving. I love the freedom of it, and I love the flexibility of it. It can feel like being your own boss but it’s also a really supportive environment. If you need anything, the team at Gist is happy to help.”
A flexible career has allowed Luke to spend more valuable time with his wife and young daughter.
“In my last job, I would finish late and I wouldn’t always get home in time for my daughter’s dinner time. As I driver, I tend to work shifts that start early and finish early. The latest I’m home is mid-afternoon, so when I get home, I can spend time with her. It’s great to be able to do bath and bedtime. That’s a benefit I always raise to people considering making a move into driving.”
Traversing the highways and byways of the UK has another advantage – the best views around.
“Driving takes me all round the southwest of England, Cornwall and Wales, and there’s some stunning scenery. My favourite moments are the early starts in the summer when you get some bright daylight streaming in and there’s beautiful countryside outside your window.”
As key workers, drivers like Luke have kept the country going throughout Covid-19 lockdowns. The pandemic, combined with the driver shortage, has led to a new respect for his hard-earned skills.
“I do think more people are starting to appreciate HGV drivers and recognise how important we are,” he says. “Before the pandemic, you would get drivers beeping their horns or trying to overtake lorries. Increasingly, people realise that without us there would be no food on the shelves.”
Flexibility and the opportunity his passion has made HGV driving the perfect career for Luke.
“My advice to anyone considering this career is to just go for it. You never know where a career in driving will take you.”