TWO Devon-based organisations have joined forces to raise awareness of the career opportunities available to those holding a valid driving licence.
The Driving Careers Forward campaign spearheaded by Recruitment Solutions and Careers South West comes as more than 9,000 people in Devon are on the dole and nationwide demand for van and large goods vehicle (LGV) drivers is believed to be at an all-time high.
It is the brainchild of Steve Williams, managing director of the recruitment firm with offices in Exeter, Taunton and Plymouth, who said: "There is a national shortage of commercial drivers, somewhere in the region of 300,000, and we have to be realistic that demand is going to increase.
"Statistics showed that in 2011 online sales in the UK amounted to £50.34bn, which was a massive 12 per cent of the UK retail trade. This alone signals a huge growth in the need for even more van and LGV drivers and we felt that we had a responsibility to take a proactive approach to help future-proof the industry.
"Driving Careers Forward is all about trying to get people to view their driving licence as a vocation, and hopefully embarking on the campaign with Careers South West, along with the support from other organisations such as Trans Plant Mastertrain, will get the message out to a wider audience, where we hope it will be well received."
Recruitment Solutions aims to train at least 10 drivers to LGV C+E (HGV1) level within the first six months of the campaign at no cost to the licence holders.
The firm will also be visiting Careers South West's weekly job workshops in Exeter and Torbay with a Driving Careers Forward roadshow.
Jenny Rudge, chief executive of Careers South West, said: "I'm pleased to be part of an exciting initiative which aims to raise awareness of opportunities in the transport industry.
"As strand leader for careers guidance and up-to-date labour market information at the National Careers Council for England, I'm committed to ensuring that industry benefits from the widest pool of potential employees and so am delighted that Driving Careers Forward intends to challenge stereotypes and encourage more women to consider a career in this growth sector."
With about 16 per cent of LGV drivers aged 60 or over, the sector is facing a looming skills shortage unless an estimated 48,000 trainees are found over the next few years.
And the Road Haulage Association warned earlier this year that transport and logistics was facing a recruitment crisis because it was not considered to be an attractive career option.
Steve said: "Demand for all types of commercial drivers is definitely increasing, and in line with that demand, we're also seeing a rise in salaries – making it a much more attractive proposition for people looking for work.
"We believe everyone seeking employment, or possibly even a career change – men and women of all working ages – should view their driving licence as a potential vocation.
"Basically, if they've got the necessary enthusiasm and the skill, they should consider a career as a commercial driver and upgrading it to an LGV licence. And, if the price of taking the LGV licence is an issue, there are many companies, like ours, that will help cover the cost.
"We hear news every day about local job cuts across different sectors and we would urge anyone seriously looking for work to think about whether they might be suited to a career in logistics.
"There were 3,000 local people vying for 300 jobs at John Lewis and I am certain we could help some of them to kick start a new career in LGV driving."