The road to an HGV driving career has been made easier thanks to a new partnership between logistics firm Stiller Warehousing and Distribution and Darlington College.

With a national shortage of drivers in the news, Newton Aycliffe-based firm Stiller had already responded to the challenge by considering how it could attract more people.

And by teaming up with Darlington College, Stiller is offering LGV/logistics students the chance to get advice from the experts and a job interview at the end of the four-week course.

Stiller operations director Brian Simpson said the partnership made perfect sense.

He explained: “We thought their course was exceptionally well thought out, and we could see the benefit of us joining up with them.

“Candidates on the course get additional training in areas such as health and safety and customer service. And it means they are far better equipped when they come to us.

“We join the course in the first week, tell them who we are and let them see and hear what it’s about from people who are actually doing the job.

“Throughout the course, the tutors will look out for people that potentially suit this type of business. Then we’ll interview them with a view to giving them a job at the end of the course. Course participants must be over 19.

“And if they do come to us, our staff certified by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents will take them through extensive on the job training. New HGV drivers after a settling in period will then have the opportunity to progress their careers with training in areas such as hazardous goods transport, forklift truck operations or business improvement NVQs.”

Brian said that while low wages used to put some people off, that’s changing, with C+E licensed drivers now able to earn at least £35,000 a year for daytime driving roles and over £40,000 a year for night time roles.

He added: “Driving is definitely a career to get into and the way Darlington College deliver the course fits in perfectly with someone wishing to join the industry.

“And if we do take people on, we aren’t the type of company that just hands someone a set of keys and says ‘there you go’.

“They’ll spend time with existing drivers, they’ll have driving assessments, they’ll be given specific training on things like tail-lift platforms, weighbridges and load security – we give them a huge raft of training.”

Stiller employs over 160 staff, including warehouse and office workers, and drivers. And on September 11, the firm held its latest open day, where potential employees visited the Aycliffe Business Park site to hear from current staff and gauge whether a logistics career might be for them.

Brian said: “It’s hard and skilled work, the hours can be long and it’s not for everybody. But while the salaries in the sector used to put many people off, that’s changing.

“The Darlington College course gives them a lot of extra training too, which is very valuable for employers. We then pick up the baton and continue that training on.”

Patrick Robinson, Darlington College’s senior engagement coordinator, said the courses, which run monthly through the college’s DC Works employability programme, have attracted Tees Valley Combined Authority funding.

The college had 90 LGV learners last year, ranging from young people looking for their first job to former coach drivers and people furloughed during lockdown.

And while lorry driving used to be seen as largely a male preserve, that’s changing too, with several women having taken the course.

Patrick added: “The partnership with Stiller is great. It allows us to offer a tangible opportunity at the end of the course and gives the students the opportunity to be interviewed for not just a role but something they could do for the rest of their working life.”