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Food delivery business fast-tracks its staff to solve HGV driver shortage

L-R: Harlech Foodservice trainee HGV driver Rhys Burgess with Transport Supervisor Morgan Jones and Operations Manager Ian Evans. Picture by Mandy Jones Photography.

A major Welsh food distribution company is fast-tracking drivers through their HGV tests to beat delivery shortages caused by the pandemic and Brexit.

Harlech Foodservice has seven drivers at their depots in Gwynedd and Chester on course to complete their HGV Class C tests this January.

It will take their total number of Class C drivers up to 38 from 31 and it will mean they are fully staffed for the Spring when the demand from hospitality and tourism starts to step up again.

Transport Supervisor Morgan Jones, who joined the company four years ago as a driver and completed the training course himself, said: “It’s something we have been doing for a few years but we’ve stepped it up.

“This is the first time we have done this mass training to ensure we have enough delivery drivers to meet our customers’ needs.

“We had six new van drivers who started this year and they had all done a great job this summer and they have all accepted our offer for them to be trained as HGV drivers by Caernarfon company Carmel Training.

“There is a cost which Harlech cover and it includes the necessary eyesight and medical checks as well as two theory and two practical tests after an intensive three-day course with Carmel in Caernarfon.

“The actual cost is about £1500 each but we reimburse them for that and in return they sign a form committing themselves to the company which they have been happy to do.

“It’s really good to know they’re aware of this and are keen to stay with us at Harlech.”

Among the intake is 23-year-old Rhys Burgess, from Porthmadog, who joined Harlech in June as a van driver and has been enrolled on the HGV course.

He said: “The firm must think I’m good enough to go on to take my HGV and it’s a great opportunity for me and something I’ve always wanted to do.

“It’s not really about the money. It’s about a good opportunity to make more of myself.

“It’s an opportunity for a young driver like me to move up the ladder and the firm are paying for it which is big help because it’s not cheap and for them to do that is really good.

“It’s about upskilling their staff and while I’m enjoying driving the vans, I’m really looking forward to getting on the lorries.”

Rhys joined Harlech after his job as a kitchen porter at a hotel fell victim to lockdown and he added: “I really needed the work because of lockdown and there aren’t a lot of jobs around here.

“For Harlech to help local people move up the ladder rather than bringing in drivers is really great.”

The Class C licence allows the drivers to take the wheel of any vehicle up to 32 tonnes which isn’t articulated, and covers most of Harlech’s fleet of 35 lorries.

It’s the same course that Morgan took himself when he joined the company full time over four years ago and he added: “We want to get them through this as quickly as we can so they can get used to the vehicles and the routes before business starts to pick up.

“It’s a really good opportunity for them. I trained with the same company and it worked really well for me and it’s good that we are using a local provider to make this great offer to upskill our staff.”

Harlech Managing Director David Cattrall said: “We have always had a policy of recruiting from within whenever and wherever possible and that’s been true of our van drivers.

“The current situation in the transport sector makes this more important than ever and we believe it is better if we can train our existing staff to fill any gaps rather than getting into a recruiting war.

“In response we ask them to agree to stay with the business for two years after they qualify and all have been happy to do so and we look forward to them working for us for many years into the future.

“We know the worth of our own people and we value their loyalty and believe it is better to offer them a career path through training which at the same time enables us to ensure we can continue to provide our customers with the deliveries they need when they need them.”