Britain Needs Truckers Fast; We Go to a School Where They Train

LONDON — The trainee edged toward an intersection for a seemingly impossible right-angle turn, and the 52-foot truck rumbled suddenly, an accurate reflection perhaps of the driver’s nerves, or possibly my own.

“It can be a little bit bumpy,” said the driving instructor, Andrew Hawes, laughing.

Seated in front of me on the driver’s seat — a throne of rubber and foam, cushioned with at least a foot of suspension — was the trainee, Felix Karikari, 36, spinning the steering wheel one day this month as the rush-hour traffic sped around the streets of South London.

Training new truck drivers has taken on new urgency in Britain, where a supply-chain crisis in recent weeks has draped a cloak of anxiety over the country as it heads into winter. There have been long lines at gas stations, and in some areas of the country, supermarket shelves lack staples like milk and eggs. On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund underscored the urgency of the problem on a global scale, issuing a report stating that backups in supply chains could stifle economic recovery.

The problems have focused attention on the nation’s truck drivers, a slice of the work force that normally draws little notice. There simply aren’t enough to transport fuel and goods to keep retailers fully stocked.

On the Scene: What It Takes to Drive a Truck

On the Scene: What It Takes to Drive a Truck

A trucker shortage is causing supply problems in Britain. Here’s why, and what it takes to drive a truck →

On the Scene: What It Takes to Drive a Truck

First the why. Brexit and other factors discouraged foreign truckers, and the pandemic slowed down driver training.

On the Scene: What It Takes to Drive a Truck

Driving these rigs is not easy. The trucks are big; the streets are small. Take a look at a London practice run …

On the Scene: What It Takes to Drive a Truck

Felix, 36, is already licensed to drive a smaller truck and was training to drive a larger one.

On the Scene: What It Takes to Drive a Truck

Andrew, his instructor, talks of the stress of the job, a factor some Britons have cited for leaving the business.

On the Scene: What It Takes to Drive a Truck

What’s the fallout of the driver shortage? When deliveries of gasoline slowed, consumers panic-purchased and pumps ran dry. Supermarkets and restaurants have struggled to stock some foods. Early on, a popular chicken joint, Nando’s, shut some restaurants when it ran short of, wait for it, chicken, partly due to the lack of drivers.

The gas shortfall has eased, but others are expected to continue as Britain scrambles to attract – and train – enough drivers. And after Covid “cancelled” last Christmas, people are now fretting about finding their favorite holiday foods. That includes turkeys and pigs-in-a-blanket.

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